Open air seafood sales OK’d — with a few limits

By on April 11, 2012

Advocates for the sale of fresh seafood at open air markets didn’t get everything they wanted, but the Dare County Board of Health’s recent amendment to regulations is a significant step in the right direction.

While some fish prone to histamine toxicity such as bluefish, Spanish mackerel and dolphin (mahi-mahi) will not be sold at the markets, the list of available fish species should please visitors and locals in search of the freshest seafood.

Anne Thomas, Dare County’s health director, told the Voice:

“The Board of Health has exercised its responsibility to adopt rules to promote and protect public health in amending the Rules Governing the Operation of Seafood Markets in Dare County, which go into effect on May 23, 2012.

“The Board of Health has made seafood more accessible to the community whilst ensuring that the health of the public is protected. All seafood must come from an approved source. Histamine fish may not be offered for sale. An example of some of the types of fish allowed includes croaker, flounder, spot, and shrimp.”

Commissioner Mike Johnson, who broached the issue with the Board of Commissioners on several occasions, was also pleased and released the following statement: “I want to thank the Board of Health for getting this done. We need every opportunity to get our wonderful fresh and healthy seafood into the hands of the public.”

Susan West, a Hatteras resident, author and advocate for commercial fishing, had been pushing for such an amendment over the past three years. She has made several appearances before the county health board.

“I was happy to see the health board recognize that keeping seafood safe for consumers doesn’t require a storefront but a commitment to keeping seafood cold from the time it hits the deck of a boat,” she said.

“I hope the county will work quickly to authorize retail seafood sales at places like farmers’ markets in unincorporated areas, so local commercial fishermen can participate in the types of direct-marketing that fishermen in other counties and states are doing.”

Indeed, the big questions are how many commercial fishermen will begin to sell their products at open-air markets, and if the county will see more open air markets with enough hours per week to make the sale of seafood economically viable.

Currently, the two most active markets in Buxton and Manteo are one-day-a-week affairs, which may make it tough for some fishermen to justify the start-up costs.

However, the county has now set the stage and it is up to the private sector and local municipalities to help facilitate the growth of open-air markets.

Coastal towns along the Eastern Seaboard have made such markets not only profitable, but destination points and attractions for visitors.

Interest is fresh food, including organic produce from local farms and “dock to fork” seafood, has increased substantially over the past decade as American’s have embraced the “foodie” culture.

Dare County has also joined forces with the private sector in such endeavors as “Outer Banks Catch,” which encourages local restaurants and seafood retailers to carry local products.

The North Carolina Department of Agriculture has joined in, buying airtime on local radio stations encouraging diners to ask for North Carolina shrimp and using billboards on heavily traveled routes to the coast touting the benefits of seafood landed by the state’s commercial fishing industry.

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