Fishermen, distributors, markets and even restaurants are waving their white flags high this season, but it isn’t defeat they’re admitting to. In fact, many would say this white flag denotes just the opposite. Amos Mosquito’s has one. So does Bistro by the Sea, Ruddy Ducks Tavern, McCurdy’s on Moonlight Bay and the Blue Moon Bistro.
What do these restaurants have in common with Blue Ocean Market, Homer Smith Seafood and Luther Lewis & Son Crab Company? They’re all members of Carteret Catch, the branding campaign for the Carteret County fishing industry that brings the catch to the consumer and assures end users that what they are purchasing is locally caught.
The program formed in 2006 in response to the influx of cheaper, imported seafood replacing domestic catches in the commercial markets. The joint venture between Carteret County fishermen and local restaurants aims to both educate the public about domestic seafood, as well as advertise seasonal seafood caught locally.
The volunteer-based organization worked under grants from the Ford Foundation and Carteret County Tourism Development Authority to both develop the brand, with help from Carteret Community College, and promote Carteret Catch with posters, seasonal availability brochures and advertising campaigns.
According to the Carteret Catch mission statement, the goals are “to sustain the livelihood and heritage of the Carteret County fishing industry through public marketing and education,” and “to once again make fishing a viable lifestyle and preserve a culture that characterizes the central coastal region of North Carolina.”
And that means connecting the consumer with the producer, not only by educating them about seafood indigenous to North Carolina, but illustrating how it gets from the boat to the table and letting diners know exactly where they can be sure to find the local catch.
The commitment is easy for the business owner. Markets and restaurants simply have to ensure that at least one offering is local year-round. But many restaurants have taken the rule to heart, offering as much local seafood as possible.
“The Bistro by the Sea is a Carteret Catch member because we believe in supporting our local commercial fishermen by sharing and preparing the healthiest, freshest, traceable and sustainable seafood Carteret County has to offer,” said Libby Eaton, who owns the establishment with her husband, Chef Tim Coyne.
The red and black logo on the plain white background has become part of Carteret County’s landscape – recognizable by both local residents and visitors as a sign that the business carries fresh, local seafood. It also sends the message that the business displaying the logo is working with other area businesses and fishermen to ensure that this vital industry survives.
According to a March report compiled by the NC Division of Marine Fisheries and the NC Dept. of Environment and Natural Resources, more than a thousand of commercial fishing licenses are issued each year in Carteret County, about 700 are used annually in Carteret County. In 2012, there were 648 active commercial fishermen in the county, down from 715 just four years prior. Those fishermen, however, were responsible for bringing some 6.5 million pounds of seafood ashore.
“Carteret County seafood is among the best and most diverse in North Carolina. From offshore and inshore finfish to crustaceans to shellfish, practically any type of east coast seafood can be found, in season, at a Carteret Catch retail market, wholesale outlet or restaurant,” said Pam Morris, president of Carteret Catch. “Through portals such as www.carteretcatch.org and the Carteret Catch Facebook page, this first-of-its-kind organization provides information to the public about select seafood from the fishermen of Carteret County – where to get it from trusted outlets, seasonality of seafood, profiles of fishermen and seafood-based businesses and other educational articles. Buying local seafood products not only connects consumers to locally available, sustainable seafood, it supports a culture and community of folks who define the character of the Carteret County coastal region.”
When dining out in Carteret County, be sure to ask the most important question of all – “Is it local?”