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NC Fish Fry: Farmer's Market Hosts Seafood Day

Tom Armstrong
Leoneda Inge

North Carolina is known for its diverse agriculture offerings.  And you can always count on the State Farmer’s Market to feature the best the state has to offer, from collard greens to sweet potatoes.

But on Thursday, for the first time, the State Farmer’s Market hosted Seafood Day.  Enthusiasts said it’s been a long time coming.

It was the perfect day for a fish fry.  It was hot outside and the fish was hot, right out of the skillet.

Chef Tom Armstrong of Vinnie’s Steakhouse in Raleigh could hardly get a break.

“We steamed about 600 clams and they’re all gone," said Armstrong. "I’m actually surprised. Pleasantly, surprised.”

Now, it was time to finish frying up the 40 pounds of fish for the crowd.  The menu included hybrid striped bass from the Fish Connection Cooperative, white grunt, and jolt-head porgy.

Visitors said they were glad to make it to the Farmer’s Market for a tasty, free lunch.

"I love fishing at Morehead City, North Carolina and Atlantic Beach. And this fish is awesome," said Connie Bunch of Raleigh.

John Aydlett is the Seafood Marketing Specialist for the state Agriculture Department.  He called yesterday’s event a success, even though it’s the first time there has ever been a Seafood Day at the Farmer’s Market.

“I guess the Farmer’s Markets have never really embraced the seafood industry," said Aydlett.  "But I think they’re coming around finally, and we’re getting more product introduced into the Farmer’s Markets.  It’s part of North Carolina’s agriculture. We’re just harvesting from the ocean instead of the land.”

One reason why North Carolina seafood is getting so much attention in the Triangle is because of a small business called Locals Seafood.  Four years ago, two fellow N.C. State University grads started selling a couple hundred pounds of shrimp on the side of the road; shrimp they got from the coast.

Today, Lin Peterson and Ryan Speckman have trucks, employees and a permanent spot at the State Farmer’s Market.  Peterson says they move about 4,000 pounds of fish, crabs and shrimp a week, supplying 40 restaurants and area Whole Foods markets.

“Traceability; we know who caught everything we sell, so we can verify that it’s fresh, local, how it was caught, where it was caught and we’re also trying to promote lesser used species, like today you had the porgy and the grunt,” said Peterson.

Locals Seafood is a success story, but there are still a lot of local fishermen struggling to move their fish west, across the state.  North Carolina flounder, for example, has been known to be sold here after it was shipped to Georgia and back.

Kris Cahoon Noble is the Hyde County planner and economic development director.  She works closely with North Carolina Catch, a group of fishermen focused on connecting consumers and businesses with local seafood.

“They’re always challenged in that, they sometimes get frustrated.  They’re tough people.  They’re stubborn people so they keep right on fishing,” said Noble.

Noble says there is one way you can help.

“Just always ask where your seafood comes from, never take it for granted.  Before you order, ask your waiter or waitress, you know, where did you get your shrimp, where did you get your flounder.  And if they don’t know, be concerned.”

Because North Carolina fishermen say they don’t want more regulation or competition standing in the way of this $130 million industry.

Leoneda Inge is the co-host of WUNC's "Due South." Leoneda has been a radio journalist for more than 30 years, spending most of her career at WUNC as the Race and Southern Culture reporter. Leoneda’s work includes stories of race, slavery, memory and monuments. She has won "Gracie" awards, an Alfred I. duPont Award and several awards from the Radio, Television, Digital News Association (RTDNA). In 2017, Leoneda was named "Journalist of Distinction" by the National Association of Black Journalists.
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