South Carolina Aquarium Convenes Conversation between Rep. Cunningham and Local Seafood Leaders

Staff Report From South Carolina CEO

Monday, May 11th, 2020

COVID-19 has significantly shifted our lives in a myriad of ways, both on land and at sea. Our coastal communities are at risk of losing a part of their cultural identity as COVID-19 impacts hit the sustainable seafood sector, in turn impacting the health of our oceans. In response to the devastation being felt on the waterfront, the Aquarium convened a virtual listening session last week with South Carolina Representative Joe Cunningham to discuss the environmental and economic concerns facing our oceans, fisheries and the seafood community as a whole.

South Carolina Aquarium Good Catch, the Aquarium’s sustainable seafood and fisheries program focused on building community and convening conversations for the health of our oceans and local seafood sector, served as the host of this virtual discussion. The goal was to shed a light on the concerns of food security and sustainable fisheries – two topics that are rarely addressed in the same conversation.

With key speakers such as James Beard Award winner Mike Lata, seafood leaders Kerry and Mark Marhefka of Abundant Seafood and The Local Palate CEO Joe Spector, the digital discussion demonstrated the breadth of impact COVID-19 has had on the local seafood sector.

“The effects of COVID-19 have been pervasive. Convening this broad roundtable of stakeholders has demonstrated the need for a comprehensive response to fisheries and the seafood supply system, for the ultimate benefit of our oceans and our local food economy,” states Amy MacKown, Good Catch coordinator.

The group hopes this virtual listening session will serve as a blueprint for coastal communities seeking to engage their legislators in relief conversations to preserve not just financial ledgers, but an industry and way of life.

South Carolina Aquarium board member Steve Durkee closed the meeting with a somber, but important reminder that the greying of the fleet continues to be a concern for our seafood sector and this crisis may expedite those outcomes. “With most fishermen at or above retirement age, this crisis could cause many to choose retirement instead of continuing to fish. Any loss of fishing capacity in the U.S. will only exacerbate our international seafood trade imbalance, impacting our supply of sustainable protein,” says Durkee. For the sake of food security as well as sustainable oceans, community-based fishing companies must survive this devastation.

Following the discussion, Rep. Cunningham reaffirmed his leadership in sustainable oceans by adding his name to the $20 billion relief letter to stimulate local seafood and fishery management sectors. “The fishing community has been calling for systemic changes to fisheries and the seafood supply chain for twenty years,” says Craig Reaves, owner of Sea Eagle Market in Beaufort. “The $20 billion relief letter that Congressman Cunningham has signed is our saving grace. It’s the only proposal that speaks to food security and flourishing marine habitats. I’m grateful the South Carolina Aquarium convened this roundtable that allowed us to bring these sentiments to light.”