North Carolina Sea Grant’s seafood consumer awareness efforts have earned a national Grand Award, top honors from the 2021 APEX Awards for Excellence in the category of Campaigns, Programs & Plans for Public Service.
The APEX judges had high praise for a “glowing example” of the creativity in the materials provided mostly online during COVID-19 restrictions that left many across the state cooking more meals at home:
“The seafood industry is critical to the economy of North Carolina, and the steps taken to ensure its survival were nothing short of mouth-watering! Resources like ‘How to Freeze NC Seafood,’ the ‘Mariner’s Menu’ and numerous articles on seafood preparation and seafood availability by species and season along with numerous recipes kept the observer’s taste buds very active! Combine that with a dedicated portal to resources for seafood consumers, marine science educators, and seafood industry professionals, and you have a complete campaign to protect the viability of this important segment of the state’s economy.”
The award highlights the work of Barry Nash, seafood technology and marketing specialist, who also chairs the NC Local Food Council; Vanda Lewis, who curates the extremely popular Mariner’s Menu blog; and Katie Mosher, communications director who worked with media and partners to share the information with wide audiences.
Nash adds that the recognition extends to others in the organization, in particular Dave Shaw as editor of Coastwatch magazine and for many online elements; and Julie Leibach, who leads social media along with her role as science editor and digital content specialist. The team also included interns and others who supported the outreach.
In March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic immediately imperiled North Carolina’s seafood industry as restaurants reduced operations or closed altogether— and as restrictions even curtailed trips into grocery stores and other retail outlets. North Carolina Sea Grant, a state-federal partnership, immediately began a public service campaign that highlighted additional avenues for consumers to purchase the state’s seafood, provided strategies and tips to consumers for seafood preparation and preserving freshness, and otherwise promoted North Carolina’s seafood products.
“Our goals were to provide the state’s seafood industry with vital support during a dire economic period, and to help consumers prepare nutritious and flavorful NC seafood at home,” Nash explains.
The information was provided through many formats, including Coastwatch magazine in print and online, with an audience of 200,000 annually; blogs including Mariner’s Menu, with 71,000 readers each year; news releases picked up by general media and national partners such as NOAA Fisheries; popular posters; and procuts on specific topics, such as the growing role of cultured shellfish.
“Our team came together to identify information needs for the public during COVID,” Mosher notes. “Safe, local seafood was a key message that we could share — and offer opportunities for varied audiences to learn about NC species and cooking techniques.”
After reviewing a few sample recipes tested and photographed by Lewis, The Carteret County News-Times decided to have Mariner’s Menu as the focus of an entire printed 2021 calendar distributed to subscribers and widely across the central coastal region.
Hayden Stephens, a high school intern in Spring 2020 shifted to remote work, and helped to develop 13 “Mariner’s Menu” posters that were in turn published in newspaper food sections around the state.
NC Sea Grant’s popular and perennial Seafood Availability Posters were updated in fall 2020, highlighting species and their availability by month and by region of the North Carolina coast. New in 2020, “A Primer on North Carolina’s Seafood” offered the public key information on North Carolina fisheries, consumer safety and health tips, strategies for seafood preparation, cultural resources, and more.
Throughout the pandemic, North Carolina Sea Grant social media feeds have regularly emphasized and amplified key seafood consumer awareness campaign messages and themes, from within the program, as well as from local, state, and national partners.
“Just one example is the #FishyFriday hashtag that was used across the Sea Grant network,” Mosher notes.