Making a living off of fishing seems to be an occupation of the past, of quaint island towns disconnected from the bustle and fast-paced lifestyle of the modern economy. Fortunately there are still a few fisheries out there held fast by the allure of the ocean and its ecology. As fish farming continues to grow at an unsettling pace, it is becoming increasingly important to find and support a good source of local, wild-caught fish. While fish farming can absolutely be sustainable and an incredible part of a diverse system (like aquaculture), it is more often than not comparable to the large-scale monoculture approach to agriculture we find as the main source of our country’s food. The norm for farming fish is very harmful to the environment in several ways: “1. Removes unsustainable quantities of water from rivers or ground sources. 2. Returns contaminated water to local water bodies. 3. Employs hormones, antibiotics and aquatic biocides that damage local ecosystems and have negative effects on public health. 4. Raises fish on pelleted feed made with unsustainable ingredients, such as GMO soybeans and the waste products of factory-farmed livestock. 5. Fails to prevent the escape of farmed fish into nearby waterways, where they may behave as invasive species and spread disease.” While the fear of eating wild-caught fish from a contaminated body of water is a valid one, it only emphasizes the importance of knowledgeable and passionate fisheries. Fish Watch is the place to go for information on sustainable seafood in the US, they are “maintained by NOAA Fisheries, the leading science authority for managing the nation’s marine fisheries.” Here you can find seafood news, information about every type of species of seafood, facts about sustainable fisheries and farmed seafood, etc.
Haag and Sons, our local seafood supplier, is located in Oak Island, NC. John Haag has been in the business for 30 years and his sons have been working with him for over sixteen. They have about thirty 50-foot hook-and-line boats that go out for 2-6 days at a time as well as a team of longer boats that go out for the same amount of time. I called Haag and Sons in hopes of hearing a little bit about their practices and story and got to talk to John, who enthusiastically launched into a conversation about the harsh winter and what the warmth is bringing for them. They’ve recently been having a lot of trouble with regulations that are trying to protect against overfishing but are making work for fisheries more difficult and regulating over 100 different species of fish. This past winter also made fishing difficult because of how harsh it has been, but things are starting to look up! We are entering into the best time for fishing (April and May) because of the warm and cold water mixing together. When the cold water closer to the shore mixes with the warmer water from deeper out in the ocean algal blooms and multicellular organisms begin to grow, which jumpstarts the food chain and we have natural bait. From here we just insert ourselves into the food chain and tap into what Haag called the last truly wild food source. “Fish have a healthy, wholesome diet, which is why they’re so good for us,” Haag explained, fish eat other fish or vegetation and as long as they’re in uncontaminated water, they are extremely nutritious. As everything warms up we will begin to see more hook-and-line species such as Snapper and Grouper. On May 1 Grouper will be open to catch again, we will also begin to see more Vermillion Snapper, Sheepshead, Jack and Yellowfin Tuna.
I was able to stop by Haag and Sons this past weekend when I was at the beach. They were open both Saturday and Sunday and were incredibly busy, I was only able to speak to John Haag for a short amount of time, but I was able to look around and take some pictures! The shop was bustling with customers, some seemed like regulars they knew by name. It was not only full of seafood but spices, sauces, cornbread mix, local eggs, and the integral southern staple—key lime pie. Seafood from Haag and Sons is not only caught, handled, cut, and sold with care, but it is also some of the freshest seafood you can find.