"Florida and Hawaii have similar fish," says Max, who prefers the sweetness of Pacific wahoo over local fish. The other difference: Even with shipping, it's cheaper. Why? Florida law requires all restaurants to purchase fish through vendors unless a restaurant is adjacent to a marina.

"I can call up my guys in Hawaii while they're on a boat," says Max. "And they're sending me photos on their iPhone of fish they've just caught." Max says he gets photos at work and can earmark a whole fish that ends up in the kitchen the next day, thanks to FedEx.

Few people would rather pay the money for locally caught fish, and that's a shame. I realize I'm in the minority thinking that I'd rather eat fish less often but pay more for local than to buy cheaper fish from around the world. I imagine a server telling my table about a beautiful plate of wahoo, a prized local fish. When was it caught? I'd ask. Yesterday, in Hawaii, he'd reply. The fact that a fish so prevalent in Florida waters had been flown in from afar would drain my enthusiasm for ordering the dish.

Al Rodriguez remains hopeful about the season.
Al Rodriguez remains hopeful about the season.

Details

The Truth Behind Florida Seafood

This is the first of two parts on the dwindling stock of local fish in South Florida restaurants. Next week: Why Florida law makes it tough for local restaurants to serve local fish.

Max isn't alone in culling relationships with fishermen and skipping the vendor. In New York and elsewhere, dozens of chefs have embraced the practice. Red Hook Lobster Pound in Brooklyn has built a business around the practice, having hired a crew of Maine lobstermen, employing off-duty firefighters to drive to Maine to pick up the haul twice a week.

Barton Seaver, National Geographic fellow and author of For Cod and Country, wrote a cookbook based on sustainable fishing. Seaver sold fish that was line-caught by fishermen he had hired. "The catch is more broad and diverse when I employ fishermen instead of going through a vendor," he said. "The diversity of fish keeps chefs engaged and interested. And the stories of unusual fish and the fishermen cull loyalty with guests. Ultimately, sustainable fish becomes a more valuable product."

On the boat with Rodriguez, the fisherman handles snapper and tilefish caught that morning. Tilefish is among his favorite for its texture and buttery flavor.

Rodriguez remains hopeful about the season. "Things are just warming up," he says.

The catch barely pays for the trip. But Rodriguez is good-natured about it. I ask what's next. He says he's going to call the fish vendor he works with. "He's gonna love today's catch. I'd love to be the one who's eating this tomorrow."

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14 comments
ted anthony inserra
ted anthony inserra

when i was working at the olg R.J.'S LANDING, near the hall of fame pool, local fisherman would pull up, and the Chef would go onto the boats and pick out the fish he wanted to buy, then we would carry them across the deck, full of people, into the kitchen to cut, it was a great scene, customers would say--I'LL HAVE WHAT HE IS CARRYING--it was technically illegal, but this is south florida and we have the greatest resourse in cooking ===THE OCEAN, i support all local fisherman, we need to do what we can to help them make a living!!

floridagadfly
floridagadfly

If "Florida law requires all restaurants to purchase fish through vendors unless a restaurant is adjacent to a marina" how can Max call the fisherman in Hawaii and buy the fish? I don't see a vendor in there between restaurant and fisherman.

floridagadfly
floridagadfly

Or, you could argue that the commercial fishing industry here has overfished the area. Put that in your paper.

Joyce Rau
Joyce Rau

This is a very nice human interest story BUT I think you missed the point of your headline.  The true reason there is no local fish in restaurants is because the sports fisherman lobby of Florida have made it impossible for commercial fisherman to exist here.  I know because I have been involved with the commercial fishing industry here in South Florida since 1976.  Put that in your paper.

Melissamccart
Melissamccart

Florida law requires all restaurants to purchase locally caught fish through vendors. There is nothing prohibiting chefs from buying fish direct from fisherman in other states if the laws in other states allow it.

Vicky
Vicky

Missing the point is pretty normal for her.

Harry
Harry

The first reefs were destroyed by beach restoration and the second and third reefs were polluted by sewage - I used to surf and dive along the coast, esp. Bal Harbor and Haulover years ago. Also commercial mullet netting - commercial fishing - interrupted the food chain in a big way. In the '60's there would be schools of thousands of mullet, then they were gone. I do not think your assertion of blaming the sport fishing industry for lack of fish in local restaurants is accurate.. Also demand long ago outstripped supply.  When I lived in the keys the restaurants were getting much of their fish, at least at certain times of the year, from South America flown into MIA.  I used to get fish cuttings to bait fish traps from a well-known fish house restaurant, and saw this myself. I do not think the author of this article would know these things either, but that remains to be seen.

Joyce Rau
Joyce Rau

Can't wait for part two; I hope your research includea the sports fisherman lobby who had fish traps banned in the eighties.

Longlinergirl
Longlinergirl

As an ex longliner that worked in the Straits, I can attest to that. How can this area be commercially overfished when there are no commercial fishermen left? We got put out of business over 10 years ago...

Melissamccart
Melissamccart

Hi, Joyce. This is a two-part series. Next week addresses some of the why's.

Melissamccart
Melissamccart

Harry, I wrote that stocks are depleted. Where do I blame sportfishing? "I did not inherit his zeal for the sport, but I certainly respect it." I do not blame sportfishermen for faltering populations.

Harry
Harry

Fish traps were banned for good reason - please tell the whole story. Unless there is wildlife management there will be nothing left, simply put.  I worked on a longliner (swordfish) and saw firsthand how rapidly fish stocks can be depleted. 

Longlinergirl
Longlinergirl

Florida law isn't the problem...its the Feds that kill us...Florida is easy...a $50 permit here a $50 license there...its getting the Fed permits to fish and working with the Fed regulations and of course the ever present enviroMENTALists...

Joyce Rau
Joyce Rau

I won't agree with that Harry as there were approx. a total of 11 fish trappers in the state of Florida in the eighties, I doubt they themselves could have made much of a dent in the fish population though as people would have undoubtably joined that band wagon vast over-fishing could have resulted. 

What the Commercial fishermen at that time sought through a class action suit was management of their industry as oppossed to obliteration of.  They too were concerned with overfishing. This they were denied in part due to the Magnuson-Stevens Act of 1976 which was created as a management tool to promote conservation and regulate the marine fishing industry.  The implementation of this act created eight regional fishery management councils while calling for the protection of habitat, management of resources to prevent overfishing as well as reducing by-catch.

What we don't see in this act is any management of the destruction of habitat due to population growth.  Our estuaries are disappearing at an alarming rate.  Our mangrove forests have been degraded by pesticide runoff and destroyed in favor of the creation of  more coastal communities. Our tidal creeks have become blankets of algae growth due to nitrate fertilization of urban lawns.  Look at the fish kills each year in Martin County due to run off from "Big Sugar", one of the most powerful lobbys in our state.  All these things need to be addressed at a Political level as well as on a conservation level but until we get our politicians, both state and local off the payroll of large corporations/industries and developers there is little hope.

 
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