North Carolina Sea Grant
Coastwatch Currents

Coastwatch Currents

August 18, 2015 | Barry Nash

By BARRY NASH

Posted Aug. 19, 2015

Grilled shrimp

North Carolina Sea Grant surveys show that consumers increasingly prefer local seafood over imported. Photo by Vanda Lewis

Recently a Harnett County seafood processor, Alphin Brothers, was charged with branding farm-raised, imported shrimp as wild-caught, domestic seafood.

According to court documents, an employee encouraged others at the company to mislabel nearly 25,000 pounds of shrimp later sold to Louisiana consumers.

The demand for local seafood has risen over the past 15 years. Today, consumers increasingly choose domestic products because they believe local means the seafood is fresher, less chemically contaminated and higher in quality.

This perception of superior quality allows processors and distributors to charge premium prices for domestic seafood. Consumers who pay premium prices do so in part because they want to support the livelihoods of fishermen and their families.

Regional market research conducted by North Carolina Sea Grant and its partners shows a majority of consumers surveyed say they buy North Carolina seafood partly because they value the lifestyle of fishermen and the heritage of fishing communities.

When imported seafood is mislabeled — whether accidentally or intentionally — as local product, hardworking fishermen and their families are deprived of market share and personal income.

Once consumers learn of the deception, their faith in the integrity of markets decreases, making them more cautious of buying local. This loss of trust also harms the economies of local fishing communities. Regaining consumer confidence often takes considerable time and effort — sometimes years.

I have worked with fishermen and family-owned seafood packers for nearly 18 years. I can attest that the majority are honest individuals who take tremendous pride in providing consumers what they believe is the freshest, safest, highest quality seafood on the market.

Map of catch groups in NC

Local catch groups educate fishermen and consumers about North Carolina seafood. Graphic by Morgan Jones.

This commitment to quality and wholesomeness is what motivates our state’s seafood industry to raise awareness of and educate people about local seafood.

Much of this work is conducted through local catch organizations — Brunswick Catch, Carteret Catch, Ocracoke Fresh and Outer Banks Catch. These groups highlight select retailers and restaurants that are committed to providing the public with seasonal, North Carolina seafood.

North Carolina Catch is the state-level organization that supports the work of these groups.

Learn more about the availability of local seafood at ncseagrant.ncsu.edu/seafood.

And remember, when purchasing seafood, always ask, “Is it local?”

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