« November 2009 Table of Contents
What's in Store: Local fish, local support
Giving back to fishing community important to one N.C. seafood retailer
By Christine Blank
November 01, 2009
Bill Rice grew up around the seafood industry in the
Beaufort, N.C., area where he now owns the Fishtowne Seafood
Center retail market. Rice's family owned a commercial fishing
boat when he was younger, and the seafood business was always
something he wanted to be involved in. After moving away and
graduating from college, Rice had wanted to start a farmed fish
operation; instead, he worked as a contract chicken producer
for a large supplier for a few years.
"Large-scale agribusiness was a little overwhelming, and I
have always been intrigued by wild fish, so I decided to come
back to this area. We have always had an abundance of shellfish
and fish here," says Rice. Soon after moving back to Beaufort
with his family, Rice purchased a small wholesale seafood
company. That was six years ago, and the business has since
been expanded by 750 square feet to 2,000 square feet. Its
customer base has also grown to include retail and wholesale
customers, including around 10 regular restaurants and select
"Cutting fish is our specialty, so we needed a facility to
cut the volume of fish," says Rice.
The overriding philosophy of Fishtowne is to buy local
seafood, thereby supporting the fishing industry in the small
towns along the North Carolina coast.
"I live in this community, and raise my family here. We have
a very unique fishing community, comprised of six different
communities that are built on commercial fishing. While the
large-scale type of fishing is a dying industry, there are
smaller operators that are making a living at it," says
Over the past 10 years, the volume of imported seafood has
put pressure on the local seafood industry and driven some
operators out of business, according to Rice. "I think we have
seen the effect of imported seafood on our industry: It has
crippled it," says Rice.
Still, during the recession Fishtowne's customers are buying
more local seafood, according
"We are in a town that has
always had fishing, and people
like to support it. If it weren't for local people, we would
have to close our doors," says Rice. "With local, there is
transparency: People know where their fish comes from, and we
clean it well."
In addition, food safety concerns and health is top-of-mind
"There is a lot of collaboration from a food-safety
standpoint here: the North Carolina Department of Health and
Environmental Resources, the North Carolina Department of
Agriculture and the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries
[work with us]," says Rice.
To that end, Rice sources a wide variety of local seafood
and recently got involved in the Walking Fish community
supported fishery (CSF). The CSF, formed by Duke University and
Carteret County fishermen, started in mid-September and runs
through Dec. 10.
As part of the CSF, in which members buy shares for between
$70 and $420 each, Fishtowne makes weekly deliveries of
approximately 1,000 pounds of seafood from Beaufort to Durham,
N.C. Other local retailers working with the CSF include Blue
Ocean Market in Morehead City, Capt. Jim's Seafood also in
Morehead City and Tripps Seafood in Beaufort.
Fishtowne cleans and fillets a different fish every week,
then packs it in individual bags for around 400 members of the
Walking Fish CSF. "I buy something different every week from
various fishermen. I would like to offer shrimp or clams to go
along with the fish," says Rice. Fishtowne is piloting the
program with Duke University, so the market is buying the fish
and making deliveries.
While the processing and bagging of fillets is
time-consuming, Rice believes the CSF will be good for his
business and North Carolina residents.
"It is a lot of labor, but I think it will help me sustain
my business in tough economic times," says Rice.
Also, residents of Durham, who are not as close to the
coast, will likely be more supportive of local fisheries and
sustainable fisheries, he believes.
Fishtowne is also a member of Carteret Catch, a nonprofit
organization that supports local fisheries through public
marketing and education, which is raising the awareness of
While customers understand that local seafood is subject to
availability, Rice's goal is to supply as wide a variety of
seafood for as long as possible.
"Anything that can be caught in our area, including shrimp,
oysters, crabs, shallow-water flounder and trout, we carry. In
season, I also try to carry grouper, ahi, triggerfish and
snapper," says Rice.
Triggerfish, which has a firm white flesh and sweet flavor,
is very popular with local restaurants and residents, Rice
Although Fishtowne does not make a practice of selling
imported seafood, it will supply Canadian farmed salmon and
king crab or snow crab upon request.
The difficulty with supplying North Carolina seafood is
maintaining a variety of seafood year-round, says Rice. Still,
he is able to source flounder, jumping mullets, oysters, clams
and other seafood in the winter months. Shrimp is also in
supply for most of the year, because three different varieties
of shrimp are caught in the area.
While local and sustainable have been important buzzwords
nationwide in recent years, Fishtowne is putting those concepts
to work by buying from North Carolina fishermen and supplying
local seafood to its community. As Rice says, the hope is that
more North Carolinians will recognize the variety and quality
of seafood that the state's coastline provides.
Contributing Editor Christine Blank lives in Lake Mary,