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Sustaining S.C. seafood

We have discussed sustainable seafood in South Carolina for years in one capacity or another. On April 20, an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig sparked the complete destruction of a multibillion dollar fishing industry along the Gulf Coast. The ongoing tragedy for our Southern neighbors has propelled the topic of sustainable seafood into the local spotlight with grave importance.

So what exactly does sustainable seafood mean?

Sustainable seafood, as proposed by the South Carolina Aquarium, refers to fish that are caught or farmed with adequate consideration for the long-term availability of an individual species and the ocean's own ecological condition. In essence, it means protecting the volume of fish during a given time that we harvest and the conditions in which the fish live and breed. It's the green movement of the sea, if you will.

In 2002, the Sustainable Seafood Initiative was started in South Carolina to help raise awareness and promote the use of local seafood that follows these guidelines in our state. Focused on promoting our local fishing industry as well as educating the general public pushed the efforts into the one place where the impact would be the greatest.

It's no secret that our local restaurants generate waves as being some of the best seafood cookeries in the country. Whether you are in Charleston, Columbia or Myrtle Beach, they are in the business of big time seafood. It became a mission of the Sustainable Seafood Initiative to get these restaurants on board in buying local seafood.

For us in Myrtle Beach, The Divine Dining Group has been a leader in using sustainable seafood. One of its flagship eateries, the Divine Fish House in Murrells Inlet, maintains as much local seafood as possible. It makes perfect sense seeing as many of the local fishing boats dock only steps from the restaurant. The location helps them provide not only the most ecologically correct fish, but also the freshest fish in our area for the restaurant. It seems to be a win-win model for Mother Ocean, Divine and customers.

A newcomer who is making big waves in our restaurant culture and supporting local seafood is the Flying Fish Public Market and Grill at Barefoot Landing in North Myrtle Beach. Operated by another restaurant powerhouse, the T-Bonz Group, this Mecca for fresh seafood is utilizing the local catch for its menu as well. Larry Bond, general manager at Flying Fish, says "We try to get as much local fish as possible. We get a lot of mahi, flounder, triple tail, stripped bass and trigger fish from around the Murrells Inlet area." This type of support for the local fishing boats positively influences the local economy and helps preserve the local waters through our sustainable seafood efforts. Flying Fish stands behind our local product so much that it allows you to pick your fish before it's cooked. There aren't many places that put that type of effort into fresh catch items.

I'm certain these restaurants would enjoy showcasing local fish exclusively, but this may be impossible by the goals of the Sustainable Seafood Initiative. One purpose is to prevent the over-fishing of a species in order to maintain a healthy population. Given that most species have times of the year when their abundance is marginal in our area, the fishing industry must take a hiatus from catching these types of fish. This creates periods when restaurants must rely on other areas to supply staple fish until the population regenerates back to healthy proportions. In recent months, they have had to choose these alternate locations carefully. Many are relying on the Pacific, the Northeast and even foreign waters to supply some fish at certain times of the year.

In the attempts to prepare for any indication of contaminants in our waters, the Department of Health and Environmental Control, fondly known as DHEC, conducted tests of 10 sites in June along our coast to create a comparative foundation for future testing. Happily, all of the results were well below the danger zone. It is very reassuring to see proactive action to protect not only our local fishing business, but the restaurants and consumers that support it.

I've met a few folks around town who are here for the first time who said they "normally vacation on the Gulf Coast." It's a pleasure to see our beautiful beach attract new people. Unfortunately, it came at the expense of a global disaster. The best action that we can take is to support the places that serve local seafood and continue to educate locals and tourists alike as to the impact we all have on the food that comes to the table. Take care of the beach, eat local and live local while you are here.

Cheers!

Kevin Hoover, a local food and beverage manager, is engaged in the endless pursuit of the perfect cocktail and dining experience. Check out his blog at lushlifeonline.com.

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