When fishermen, food activists, and chefs rode together on buses to Raleigh

In North Carolina, fishermen are joining the local food community.

Recently in North Carolina, a group of fishermen organized a rally to maintain their access to red drum, spotted sea trout, and
estuarine striped bass. 

The rally drew close to 300 protestors, and fishermen, food activists and chefs rode together on buses to Raleigh.   

A recreational fishing group had proposed a bill that would designate those three varieties of fish as gamefish, thereby banning the commercial harvest. 

Recreational fishermen say that the bill would be an economic boon to the state – with more anglers coming to NC to fish – and that the impact on commercial harvesters
would be negligible. But a coalition of chefs, consumers, and farming advocates disagreed – and joined with the fishermen to protest the bill in person and via an online petition.
Groups like Chefs Collaborative and the Carolina FarmStewardship Association sent action alerts warning their members that the bill
would take NC seafood off the dinner table.  And the North Carolina Farm Bureau Federation recognized commercial fishermen as important food producers.

The support from the local food community was all the more
remarkable considering that seafood was barely on the radar screen of local
food advocates during a series of statewide “farm to fork” policy discussions
that took place in 2008.

A lot of work has taken place since fishermen and their
friends witnessed that void.    

Groups like NC Catch and its local catch affiliates are
working hard to educate consumers about seafood seasonality and the economic,
ecologic, and cultural benefits of buying local seafood.  “Bringing Seafood into the Local Food
Movement” was the theme of their annual summit and Uli Bennewitz, a pioneer in
the movement in North Carolina, was the keynote speaker.

Coastal communities are hosting more local seafood events,
like the Seafood Throwdown at Day at the Docks in Hatteras in September that
NAMA graciously helped stage.

Most of our seafood still heads north to out-of-state
markets, but more is moving west to supply in-state demand.  Community-supported fisheries are
delivering seafood to drop-off locations in places like Raleigh and
Durham.  More North Carolina is
available at inland farmers’ markets, and entrepreneurs are turning inland
chefs onto species, like sheepshead and cobia, that are new to them.

We have been told that the gamefish bill will not be run
this session, but proponents are continuing to pressure legislators to bring it
to a vote this summer. In any event, it’s likely to be back for
consideration next year, so fishermen aren’t resting easy.

Still, it is reassuring that North Carolina
seafood is recognized as an important component in the local food economy of a
state better known for its sweet potato and turkey production.
Susan West is a
journalist and lives on Hatteras Island, NC with her husband Rob who is a
commercial fisherman.  West serves
on the board of NC Catch.