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In Brunswick County, it’s a no-brainer: Fresh fish is better, and locally caught is best.
That’s the basis of Brunswick Catch, a group of commercial fishermen, seafood dealers and restaurant owners spawned two years ago to promote locally harvested seafood.
Formed with assistance from the Brunswick County Economic Development Commission, Brunswick County commissioners, North Carolina Sea Grant and Carteret Catch, the group in recent months has begun spreading the word with its trademark red-and-black logo signs, stickers and flags.
“It looks nice; it really does,” group secretary and former county commissioner May Moore said as she and fellow officers checked out one of Brunswick Catch’s recently installed signs on Holden Beach Road on a hot July morning.
“Want LOCAL seafood?” the promotional asks fast-moving travelers heading toward Shallotte from Holden Beach. “Ask for Brunswick Catch!!”
The Brunswick Catch logo also is displayed at members’ establishments, including Travis Elliott’s seafood market, Capt. Pete’s in Holden Beach, Holden’s Seafood, and Inlet View Bar & Grill at the end of Village Point Road at Shallotte Point.
Other Brunswick Catch members include Fishy Fishy and Surfers restaurants and Clem’s and Haag & Sons seafood markets in Southport.
Commercial fishermen and shrimpers also fly Brunswick Catch logos on their boats, says group chairman Jackie Varnam, co-owner with husband Nicky of Garland’s Fresh Seafood market in Varnamtown.
The “catch,” she says, is to ensure they’re buying locally caught seafood, customers need to ask for it.
And businesses displaying the Brunswick Catch logo assure that’s what they’re selling.
Member businesses using the logo are asked to carry at least one item that is local.
“I think we’re beginning to get some real name recognition,” Moore said of the Brunswick Catch campaign, which has a website at brunswickcatch.com.
Discussion also has ensued among the three “Catch” groups—Brunswick as well as ones in Dare County at the Outer Banks and Carteret County—about the possibility of launching an umbrella group “that will work to advertise across the state and the nation,” Moore said.
The group also would work to impact policy that affects commercial fisherman and the commercial fishing industry, said Moore, an Oak Island resident whose own husband is a retired shrimper.
A meeting, in fact, is scheduled this week “that we will be represented at,” Moore said.
Some local shrimpers have complained the Brunswick Catch campaign is misleading because local dealers continue to sell imported seafood.
Varnam, who grew up with shrimping all her life, doesn’t blame local fishermen who are having difficulties competing with sales of imported seafood, which is usually cheaper than they can afford to sell theirs for.
She understands local fishermen want the best prices, which is difficult to do when someone else is selling cheap imports.
But compared to other countries like Thailand, which is flooding the market with imported seafood, the United States doesn’t produce enough of its own, Varnam says.
About 83 percent of seafood sales in the U.S. are imports, she says, and dealers can’t get enough locally harvested seafood.
The domestic seafood industry also has been hurt by regulations, which is another area where Brunswick Catch has ventured to aid local harvesters.
Varnam herself has been attending recent meetings of the Southern Shrimp Alliance, a nonprofit alliance that just recently secured approval from the USDA for trade-adjustment assistance via the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) for Farmers program.
TAA enables shrimpers to receive up to $12,000 for “development and implementation of approved business adjustment plans,” according to SSA.
But just like the Brunswick Catch campaign, shrimpers will receive assistance by asking and applying for it, Varnam said.