Beaufort seafood business to sell shares in exchange for fresh fish

The (Hilton Head) Island PacketSeptember 29, 2013 

The Gracie Belle of Sea Eagle Market

— A time-honored occupation and way of life is disappearing from Lowcountry waters and tables.

“There’s less infrastructure, (fewer) boats,” Craig Reaves says. “If something doesn’t change, there’s not going to be a fishing industry.”

So he’s adopting a model small farmers have turned to to bolster business – community-supported sales.

Reaves, who owns Sea Eagle Market in Beaufort, has spent decades connecting with fishermen across the state and serves on the board of the S.C. Seafood Alliance. He’s been searching for a way to help preserve fishing heritage and believes a community-supported fishery might be the answer.

The direct-buy process starts with customers purchasing a “share” in the harvest and ends with the business providing a box of seafood on a predetermined schedule.

Community-supported fisheries are not new or untested in South Carolina, said Frank Blum, president of the S.C. Seafood Alliance.

Blum fielded questions about the practice Monday while standing on the docks of Abundant Seafood in Charleston, which has operated a community supported fishery for several years.

“What you’re doing is cutting out the middle people and selling directly to the consumer and giving them a real fresh product,” he said. “There are lots of people who will pay the price.”

Fishermen benefit by getting money at the start of the season to cover the cost of getting out on the water.

Customers benefit by knowing they are getting only South Carolina seafood, Reaves said. Seafood in the program will be labeled, showing where it was caught and, when possible, the name of the boat and captain who caught it. Cutting out the middle man means lower-cost fresh fish, Reaves adds.

Customers will also be introduced to foods they haven’t tried or heard of, Reaves said. Recipe suggestions will be provided.

A typical box for two people will have about a pound of the featured fish of the week, a pound or two of shrimp and some shellfish – enough for two to three meals, Reaves said.

The program is starting small and as of last week had only about a dozen members. But Reaves hopes it will grow, so the money can be used to help fishermen who might need boat repairs or have other costs at the start of the season.

He further hopes the program will raise awareness – as it has for local farmers – of the seafood industry in South Carolina and the fishermen trying to stay afloat.

“What we have been doing in the past has not been working,” Reaves said. “We have to try something.”

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