Florida’s Aaron Welch, III Joins Gulf Seafood Foundation Board

Aaron Welch, III, owner and operator of Two Docks Shellfish in Bradenton, FL, has agreed to join the Board of Directors of the Gulf Seafood Foundation. Photo: Ed Lallo/Lallo Photography

by Ed Lallo/Gulf Seafood News Editorial Director

Aaron Welch, III, owner and operator of Two Docks Shellfish in Bradenton, FL, has agreed to join the Board of Directors of the Gulf Seafood Foundation.   Welch joins Ed Chiles as the board’s second representative from the Sunshine State.

Before distribution to restaurants, Welch smells his clams to check for freshness.  Photo: Ed Lallo/Lallo Photography.

Welch holds a law degree from Emory University in Atlanta, as well as a Ph.D. from the University of Miami’s Abess Center for Ecosystem Science and Policy. Two Docks Shellfish grows clams on aquaculture leases in Tampa Bay.  He and is dad, Aaron Welch, Jr., started the clamming operations in 2014 after he attended a seminar featuring a session on aquaculture.

“The Gulf Seafood Foundation has been a fantastic broad spectrum resource for everyone in the seafood business,” said Welch.  “They have been the source of getting the word out to both the seafood community, as well consumers and legislators, on the issues facing fishermen, processors, distributors of Gulf of Mexico seafood.”

Aaron Welch, III (l-r) visits with Gulf Seafood Foundation president Jim Gossen, along with Marc Scott and his dad, Aaron Welch, Jr., at their company headquarters in Bradenton. Photo: Ed Lallo/Lallo Photography

“After meeting and viewing Aaron’s operation in Florida, I realized that he would be a valuable addition to our board,” said Jim Gossen, Gulf Seafood Foundation president. “How often do you come across a fisherman that has a law degree, as well as a Ph.D. in environmental science.  He knows the issues facing the Gulf seafood community and will be instrumental in helping us find solutions.”

Gossen said the current pandemic and recession would drastically change the Gulf seafood industry.  “It is important to have experts like Aaron become part of our board if we are to successful navigate the turbulent waters ahead.”

New Career

A harvest of Two Dock Shellfish clams harvested from the Gulf makes it way back to shore. Photo: Two Docks Shellfish

After serving for five years navigation officer aboard a US Navy guided missile destroyer, Welch left the military in search of a new direction in life.

“I attended a presentation on aquaculture given by University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science Professor Daniel Benetti. I was just blown away,” he said.  “I sitting at the back of the room got up and made my way to the front. When the presentation was over I called my wife and said, ‘I know what I am going to do with my life.’”

While finishing his Ph.D. at the University of Miami he worked as a seafood aquaculture consultant in Panama. He recently had a seven-year study on aquaculture in the Tropical Caribbean published in the Journal of World Aquaculture Society.

Two Docks currently farms more than 12-acres on two-acre blocks in Tampa Bay. It has more than 1500 clam grow-out bags sitting on the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico.

Covid-19 has hit the Florida and Gulf seafood industry hard. Welch thinks the demand for seafood is still there, but with the restaurants closed the demand remains unfulfilled.

Welch has recently had a seven-year study on aquaculture in the Tropical Caribbean published in the Journal of World Aquaculture Society. He believes the price of seafood is going to rise worldwide after the pandemic. Photo: Ed Lallo/Lallo Photography

“One thing our Gulf seafood producers can do to help restaurants return is just keep producing,” he said. “We need to find creative ways to move our product to keep in business.  When the restaurants do come back online they will be happy to have us here and able to meet their needs.

Talking with those in the industry he says a lot of restaurateurs are worried “they are going to go from zero to 60 mph so fast their vendors will not be able to meet the supply demand. We just got to keep on keeping on.”

During the pandemic, Welch has had to change the company’s marketing plan in order to sell his clams.

“We are starting to move our product directly to the public instead of selling to restaurants,” he explained.  “For the first two weeks it has gone ok.  We are able to continue to pay the rent and meet payroll.  We are considerably under are normal sales.  We are looking forward to the restaurants opening, even if at only 25% capacity.”

Welch says his former buyers are still not open but expect to comeback online soon.  To attract buyers Two Docks will be reducing prices in the near term to help both buyers and restaurants.

The Bradenton seafood seller is also currently distributing oysters from an aquaculture farm on the east coast of the State.  Recently the State granted his operation the rights to grow oysters off bottom in Tampa Bay.

Welch was a supporter of the Gulf Seafood Foundation’s “Helping Hands” glove program.  He wears them with Marc Scott before heading out to harvest clams. Photo: Ed Lallo/Lallo Photography

“We got the rights to grow oysters last month and we look at turning the screws to get it up and running quickly.  The coronavirus and cash flow has definitely slowed our timeline down,” he admits. “We will have to wait a bit to get in the oyster business, but it is on the horizon.”

Welch is bullish on the seafood business in the Gulf of Mexico. “This is definitely a storm we are going through, but we are going to get through it.  Demand for seafood is going to continue to grow. If we all work together we will continue to prosper,” he said.

“I look forward to serving on the board of the Gulf Seafood Foundation. Having resources like the Foundation, as well as networks and people you can turn to, is vital for everyone in this business.”

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About the Author

About the Author: Ed Lallo is the editor of Gulf Seafood News and CEO of Newsroom Ink, an online brand journalism agency. He is also owner of Lallo Photography based in Chapel Hill, NC. .


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