It sounds straightforward: If something is labeled local seafood, it should be, well, local.
That's the premise behind a bill introduced Thursday by Georgetown Republican Rep. Stephen Goldfinch.
Goldfinch's district stretches from Murrells Inlet to Park West Boulevard in Mount Pleasant, or about 80 miles of coastline, so this bill speaks directly to his constituents.
You might ask why we even need the bill.
Well, for starters, 91 percent of seafood consumed in the United States is imported, said Frank Blum, executive director of the Charleston-based South Carolina Seafood Alliance. (That's 91 percent by value, not volume, he adds.)
“There's just not that much local seafood available,” Blum said. “That is the product that people really want, and to lie about it makes it easier to sell.”
The way Goldfinch sees it, if the consumer is willing to pay more for locally raised or harvested seafood, the labeling ought to be accurate.
“It's a problem of fraud,” Goldfinch said. “If we don't want to impose any kind of penalty for lying to your consumer, then I don't know what government is for.”
Something fishy here
Seafood appetites and federal fishing restrictions make it unrealistic for Charleston-area restaurants to be able to offer, say, local grouper, 365 days a year.
That's what Hank's Seafood chef Frank McMahon ran into a few years ago. People were coming to his restaurant asking for grouper when there was no local grouper available, then wondering why they could get it somewhere else in town.
Now, “we have grouper all year long. When it's not local, we tell them it's from the Gulf,” McMahon said, or wherever it came from.
Of course, they do try to source their seafood locally when it's possible, McMahon said.
“If it's coming from the local waters, you want to let them know,” he added.
Apparently not everyone feels the same way.
Truth in labeling
The Seafood Alliance, in conjunction with the state's Department of Agriculture, is working on a Certified SC Seafood logo, much like the Certified SC Grown campaign. It hasn't yet been released for public use because they're still working on guidelines.
“It's easy to set the logo up, it's hard as hell to police it,” Blum explained.
Goldfinch would like the Agriculture Department to be involved in enforcement for seafood. Right now it's under the Department of Natural Resources, he said. He also wants to expand aquaculture to include saltwater species (right now it's limited to freshwater) and put that under the Agriculture Department as well.
“We don't want seafood that's filled with mercury and toxins — we have no idea what we're getting when we're getting Asian carp, especially when it's masked as South Carolina grouper.”
It's a good time to make the push. People are more interested in labels and food origins than ever before.
“That's all I'm asking for — honesty,” Goldfinch said.
If everyone felt that way, we wouldn't be here in the first place.
Reach Melanie Balog at 937-5565 or firstname.lastname@example.org.