Special Reports

Local seafood retailer turns to Mote Marine

BRADENTON — The oil spill lurks like a big, greasy question mark in Gulf waters for the local fishing industry, but one local seafood wholesaler isn’t taking any chances when it comes to their supply.

Ocean Harvest Market, which opened in Bradenton days before the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded, has struck up a relationship with Mote Marine of Sarasota, a marine research organization that includes a sturgeon farming operation among other activities.

“(We are) regrouping and preparing for the possibility of the BP oil spill reaching our coastline and polluting our waters and sea life,” Ocean Harvest stated Tuesday in a press release.

Toward this end, the business is exploring several avenues of providing retail and wholesale seafood from fish farms and areas unlikely to be affected by the spill, such as Alaskan halibut and wild-caught Hawaiian fish.

“None of us know for certain what is going to happen,” said Mike Guucione, Ocean Harvest’s owner. “The consequences for our Gulf Coast, if the tide shifted, would be apocalyptic.”

Guucione’s initial business model was to provide seafood from local fisherman almost exclusively and, up until recently, the only fresh shipped seafood he offered was colossal tiger shrimp from Hawaii. But, while more shipped seafood may show up in his display cases, Guucione has a commitment to quality, service and seafood caught or grown in the United States, he said.

Mote Marine also recognizes the catastrophic potential of the spill and hopes other seafood suppliers will follow in Ocean Harvest’s footsteps, especially when it comes to buying American, said Kevan Main, director of Mote’s Center for Aquaculture research and development.

The U.S. runs a $9 billion seafood trade deficit, with foreign fish farms contributing to that, Mote said.

It is this deficit that encourages Mote to feel that, far from competing, local fisherman are allied with her farm against foreign markets.

“We often say that seafood is the second largest natural resource trade deficit right behind oil,” Main said, pointing out that now one is destroying the other.