In support of Gulf fishermen, Water Street Seafood joins Gulf Seafood Institute

by / Newsroom Ink on May 30, 2017

APALACHICOLA, FL — The Gulf Seafood Institute has signed into membership one of the region’s most successful seafood operations, Water Street Seafood, captained by passionate founder and CEO Steve Rash who shares GSI’s mission of protecting consumer access to fresh Gulf seafood.

What began in the early 1980s as a two-person operation from a car trunk is now a primary supplier of Gulf-caught grouper, snapper, tuna, sword fish, amberjack, mullet, pompano, wahoo, king mackerel, Tile Fish and more to customers across the country. All told, Water Street offers more than 50 species of fish and a wide variety of shellfish.

“We were 23 years old and we figured out how to ship some shrimp on Eastern Airlines,” Rash said, recounting those earliest days. “We’d go to Carrabelle (FL), buy shrimp, then ship them by air to Syracuse, New York. That worked for a while, so we kept going from there. “

“I didn’t know much about the business. I knew I loved being at the beach and at the bay. I liked being in business for myself. Fishing was pretty neat. I wasn’t too keen sitting at a computer in a cubicle.”

The business eventually moved from that humble car/garage/house setup on St. George’s Island into it’s first office — a rented little shack on the water for $600 a month where Rash would buy seafood from local watermen and deliver orders with an old small refrigerated truck.

By 1987, Rash caught word that an Apalachicola processor was ready for retirement. Water Street Seafood acquired a lease on its first formal facility, just down the street from that original shack. Rash assumed 4 buildings of various sizes and conditions.

“They were old then, even older now,” he said. “There wasn’t a master plan, we just dealt with things as we went along. It’s been 30 years. The business has always grown like that — organically.”

Today, Water Street Seafood supports a lot of jobs, including 60 employees, over 100 fishermen and 80 more employees in a seafood restaurant on St. George’s Island. Rash’s fleet of refrigerated trucks move Gulf oysters, shrimp and frozen and fresh fish as far west as Orange Beach, Alabama, as far east as Savannah, Georgia, and Charleston, South Carolina and south to Miami.

“We’ve been doing this for a long time now and we do pretty good job at it,” Rash said. “We have a number of boats who fish only for us. We buy all their fish and pay good prices, and offer a place to dock their boat. They’re free to sell their fish elsewhere and we’re free to buy fish from anyone else but we choose to support each other.”

And it’s not long after mentioning those fishermen that Rash reveals a passion beyond his own business: The parallel threats facing America’s commercial fishermen and the American seafood consumer.

“Anybody can go to a restaurant and buy a seafood dinner that was caught for them by a commercial fisherman,” Rash said. “Commercial fishermen provide access to the resource for those people who don’t have a boat. We’ve got to support commercial fishing and commercial fishermen.”

That’s not happening, Rash said, to the degree that the future of either are safe.

“Part of protecting the commercial fisherman is supporting the commercial fisherman through regulations, management and restrictions to give him the ability to make sure there’s enough fish out there to catch.”

Rash believes resource managers are hyper focused on the allocation formulas between recreational and commercial fishermen, and not attentive enough to the impact each state’s fishing season has on the fishery.

“Anyone can decide how many you can catch and how many I can catch,” Rash said. “That’s not managing fish, that’s dividing fish.”

Rash believes management should focus more on increasing the number of fish by increasing their effort on hatcheries and fishery habitats, he said:

“Fish don’t live in a barren dessert. They live on both natural and man made structure. Our grass beds are disappearing and fish habitat is being destroyed. We should be building large scale reefs and making them protected areas. Those are going to grow and grow, and as soon as you put stuff out there, it’s going to start attracting fish, the corals and then the fish will breed there, the fish are safe there, and the fish will filter out of there and go somewhere else.”

Everyone in the fishery has skin in the game, Rash said, not just consumers and commercial fishermen but recreational fishermen, as well. Pressure on the resource from each state’s recreational sector has exploded. If managed better, recreational fishermen would have much longer seasons than this year’s three-day Red Snapper allowance in Federal waters, for example.

“In theory, every man woman and child in the United States, which is 300 or so million people, can come down on those three Federal days and catch the bag limit each day. So in theory, you could have 1.2 billion fish caught every day for three days and there wouldn’t be a snapper left in the Gulf of Mexico . The recreational sector has to have a much higher level of accountability.”

And the system is broken both ways, Rash said, since the recreational sector has been over-fishing their quotas significantly and still they want more and more.

“I understand; I like to go out and fish. If I had a boat, I’d want to catch my fish, too,” Rash said. “I just know fishery management needs to be more sophisticated.”

Which circles back around to his long-range interest in protecting commercial fishermen:

“A lot of forces are kind of working to put them out of business,” Rash said. “But commercial fishermen are tough people. All they need is an opportunity. They will take care of themselves if put in the position to do so.”


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About the Author

About the Author: Ed Lallo is the former editor of Gulf Seafood News and CEO of Newsroom Ink, an online brand journalism agency. .


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