I meet David on twitter the other day and was excited to meet a commercial fisherman in my state of North Carolina. I adore fresh seafood and thought why not ask him if he would like to be interviewed for the blog, I added to facebook and tweeted and got some questions. I am truly grateful for his time, the lovely pictures and think his business idea is wonderful.
1. tell us a little about yourself, how long have you been a fisherman, and what do you most enjoy about your job (question from Dawn Corleone @DawnCorleone)
My name is David Johnson. I am 35 years old. My commercial fishing background has deep roots. My grandfather was a commercial fisherman from the 1930s era. My mother watched him fish and learned the trade at a young age from him. After finishing high school, my mother and father had moved to the east coast and settled at Topsail Island NC to start their journey as commercial fishermen. My father feel sick at the age of 32 from a bone cancer. At a young age of 35, he passed away leaving my mother with four boys. I was the youngest at only 5 years old. My mom knew it would be hard to make ends meet with a single income and four growing sons. Instead of remarrying or going out on a limb for help, she told us we would all have to pitch in if we where to make it. My oldest brother, being 15 at the time, had already been fishing for a few years. It became a trickle effect as we all joined in the fishing business. I was out on the water on my own at the age of 10. I purchased my first boat at the age of 12. We not only enjoyed fishing, but we enjoyed teaching people the trade. The best part is seeing the consumer come back to us because they know we take care of them. We lived off of our harvets so we knew how important it was the have fresh food. So, I have been fishing myself for over 25 years. Best part of the job is what the ocean supplies for us and the joy of people coming back to us year after year for the support.
2. what is a typical day like (Question from Marnely @nella22) , are there certain times that are better for fishing?
The typical day is like any other job. It is very hard work with long hours. The only people that keep their jobs this long are the ones that love what they do. After years in the fishing industry, I have learned what the weather will do and how it will affect the fishing. I would have to say, I had had some of the best catches during a storm and bad seas whereas clear calm days may be slower to produce. My very first venture out was on the leading edge of a hurricane. All the fish were flushed inland away from the churning water. The best answer I have about conditions is that you can't catch them if your not out there. I like fishing a full moon, for nights.
3. How do you strive to be sustainable in your fishing practices and ensure good fish stocks for future generations?
A great question from Beth Anne - Beth Anne Here on the west coast our wild fish stocks are in decline and our commercial fisheries have been greatly reduced as a consequence. That reduction has sadly affected the livelihood of our fishermen. Many can no longer rely on fishing to provide their only source of income and must take on other work as well. Are they experiencing anything similar in your area?
We have a 100 percent by catch ratio. This means while we fish, we only target what we will sell or reuse as bait. We are strong believers in preserving the fishing industry for many generations to come. We incorporated harvesting live blue crab into our fishing in the mid 80s to insure we would not have any waste or over-fishing practices. We run over 2000 blue crab pots year round. This adds up to a lot of bait to bait all these pots. As we fish and cull through our fish, they are graded where some will only be suitable for bait. We call it the circle of life because no fish is wasted and it is used to re-harvest another fish. We build new commercial fishing devices every year to ensure that we are using the best devices to target what we need to catch only. As far as future harvest, we are part of an organization that reseeds and plants crustaceans for future harvests.
The fish decline is everywhere. The oceans fish migrate as temperatures change. So, there are fish here one month and gone the next month. There is a problem with over-fishing in foreign countries and this has a large impact on the east and west coast. Most countries don't have a by-catch minimum or maximum. Which means they fish for a certain species and anything other than that species is culled back to the sea or they waste them. We have studied fish that come into the east coast for a season and then migrate. We have seen over the years with research, that these fish do come back to our coastline in smaller numbers each time. This is due to weather changes, but most importantly over fishing in other places. There are several groups that have been working on this for years. These groups along with us have been fighting for larger restrictions on offshore and overseas fishing.
As far as our livelihood, since we have seen these changes take place over the years, we have become versatile to fish for any species. We have learned ways to fish and certain times to harvest, that makes the supply grow instead of diminish. The ocean has a natural cleansing system. When you learn how this system works you can use it to help replenish the supply of fish. For example, by taking a certain type of male fish for harvest, it allows the same breed of female fish to lay eggs. The same female will not lay if she's accompanied by the males and her seasons eggs are wasted. She will eat them. A little bit of research can have a large impact on the industry.
I don't prefer one fish or shellfish over the other. I love them equally. The only problem I have is that I can spot an un-fresh fish or shellfish from a mile away. From being in the business and experiencing what fresh really is, there is no other for me. The only restaurants or markets that I would ever buy from would be ones that I have sold to. After tasting fresh seafood, it gives you a memory check of all the places you have ate that were not fresh.
We fish up and down the east coast from the Virginia Line to the SC line. We see a wide variety of different scenery. One of my favorites is chugging out in the intercoastal waterway early in the mornings and seeing wild horses roaming the shore lines. Watching the alligators sun bathe and the whitetail dear forage on the banks would be my second.
6. You have a new business you are raising funds for to deliver fish to inland communities tell us a little about that ....
To give you a run down of our campaign. We have sold fresh local seafood to markets on the coast for many years. Being friends with these fish houses, we have always noticed that the seafood would be rapidly processed and packaged and then shipped to different states to supply restaurants and other fish markets. Yes, its amazing to know but if you sit down at an NC restaurant to eat seafood, it more than likely came from somewhere other than the NC coast. This has laid heavy on my mind after seeing the repetitive motion of the same operation for years. My wife popped the question a few years ago. "Where does NC get their seafood from if all of ours has been shipped out for years?" We quickly decided to do a survey. We jumped into our car and road to the furthest point in NC. Over to the Blueridge Parkway at the NC mountains. Working our way through NC stopping at as many communities as possible. The answer stayed the same. No one was getting fresh seafood from NC unless they were on vacation at our very own coast. Some would even say that they go on vacation at the coast just to get fresh seafood from NC. Thus our mobile unit idea was born. We will start off with one mobile unit to carry fresh harvests inland for roadside sales, wholesale to dealers and to restaurants. Our overall goal would be to have several mobile units running for maximum coverage. But also as a stimulus for more jobs for sales people and delivery drivers as this grows and demand overcomes what we can harvest. We have a network of local commercial fishermen that will share the harvests to us for distribution. Keeping it local keep fishermen fishing, creating jobs and teaching these communities about fresh local catch and giving them a detailed story of where and how their catch was harvested.
To learn more about David see below, hope you enjoyed learning about fishing from a pro as much as I did and I wish him much success. I am headed to the coast soon who knows maybe I can say hi in person and get some fish :-)
Twitter: @MobileSeafoodNC & @david27330