If you like seafood – it’s all good!  However, not everyone does, and sometimes when this question is asked the person is not as interested in how it tastes, but where the seafood came from. 

In recent years, there has been a move across the country to learn more about where your food originates. Whether you’re concerned what the livestock was being fed, or what the living conditions of the poultry were like, or whether the pork was locally harvested or came from outside the United States – more people are asking questions and it is affecting how they purchase their food. 

Is it the same for seafood?

In some cases, yes.  Several years ago, I ran the marine science program at Washington High School.  We were discussing whether, with a growing human population, the ocean could sustain the demand for seafood.  Would we need to focus our production on aquaculture?  We decided to survey locals to see whether (A) they liked seafood? And (B) if so, would it matter whether the product came from the ocean or a farm? Over a 10-year period, we found that (A) the percentage of locals who did not like seafood increased. And (B) those who did like seafood did not have strong feelings whether it was from a farm or from the sea.  Curious as to why those who did not like seafood felt that way, we followed up with questions and found it was not as much a concern with seafood safety, rather, they just did not like the taste of it. Of course, this was a high school science project and not a formal scientific investigation, but the students did a good job with it and the results were interesting. 

seafood fest

That was almost 20 years ago, so do people feel the same now? According to Dr. George Baker (Florida Sea Grant), the answer is yes… things are about the same now.  If people can get access to wild harvested seafood at a good price, they will buy it. If it is not readily available, or if it’s too expensive, they will instead purchase farm raised. Moreover, an increased number of people do not like seafood. 

What about the local issue?  In California, there is a program that allows you to find out which boat captain caught your fish. In Florida, there are studies going on to determine what type of filet you are actually buying. As with produce and livestock, people seem to be interested in where their seafood comes from – and for many, if effects where and how they buy seafood. 

So what is local?

Well, we call any seafood product harvested or cultured within 250 miles local. For Pensacola, that would include Alabama, Mississippi, and eastern Louisiana. We know that between 80-90% of the seafood you currently purchase is imported from both commercial fishing and aquaculture overseas.  That said, local seafood is still here and available. 

The commercial fishing in Pensacola goes WAY back. It was one of the first industries to get off the ground shortly after Florida became a U.S. territory. According to Dr. Jack E. Davis, in his book The Gulf; The Making of an American Sea, Cuban fishermen harvested seafood from Florida’s Gulf Coast before Florida becoming a territory. Shortly after becoming a U.S. territory, New England fishers came to harvest the Gulf, including one by the name of Leonard Destin. Soon a fishing industry was operating in Pensacola. They sold a variety of species but in 1840 they found red snapper – and the boom was on.

Red Snapper

Shrimp followed, but water quality, habitat loss, and overharvesting have plagued the local industry in recent years. Fishers did very well for a long time, then the landings decreased, the fishermen believed the fish had moved, and so the fleet would move. This continued until the commercial fishermen were harvesting the entire Gulf of Mexico seeking fish. It wasn’t long before quotas had to be initiated, and regulation has been the norm ever since. Add to this an increased interest in recreational fishing too, increasing the overall number of fishers, and increased regulation, with this, sector is needed. Today we can include the introduction of invasive species as another stressor. 

All that said, local seafood is still available. Some species have become quite pricey, but they are worth it. The Gulf & South Atlantic Fisheries Foundation created a Gulf Coast Seafood Species Chart. This chart indicates when selected species are in peak season for commercial harvest. It varies from one state to another, but the list below includes Florida and Alabama. 

 

Species

Months in Peak Season

Comments

Blue crab

No peak season

 

Blue crab

Softshell

Mar – Jun

 

Black drum

No peak season

 

Red drum

No peak season

Subject to quotas and closures

Clams

All year – FL only

Clams are now cultured in FL and are available year round

Crawfish

Apr – Jun – LA only

LA only, but close to us

Flounder

Jul – Aug; Oct-Nov

Subject to quotas and closures

Grouper

No peak season

Subject to quotas and closures

King mackerel

Jan – Feb; Jul-Sep; Dec

Subject to quotas and closures

Mahi-Mahi

May – Jun

 

Mullet

Jan; Sep – Dec

 

Oysters

Jan – Apr; Sep – Dec

 

Pompano

Jan – Apr;

 

Sheepshead

No peak season

 

Brown shrimp

May – Sep

 

Pink shrimp

Jan – Jul

 

Rock shrimp

Jun – Sep

 

White shrimp

May – Nov

 

Snapper

Peak season year round

Subject to quotas and closures

Yellowtail snapper

Mar – Jun

 

Spanish mackerel

Jan – May; Aug – Sep; Dec

Subject to quotas and closures

Spiny lobster

Aug – Sep; Oct – Nov

 

Spotted seatrout

No peak season

Subject to quotas and closures

Stone crab

Oct – Dec

 

Swordfish

Sep – Nov

 

Yellowfin tuna

Jun – Oct

 

The health benefits of consuming seafood are understood. We certainly think it should be part of your weekly dinner menu. There are concerns for safety in some seafood products, as in mercury and king mackerel, and we will address that in another article – but the lack of consuming seafood can create health issues as well.  We hope you enjoy local Gulf seafood.