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Legislature: Bill would define the local in ‘local seafood’

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

All seafood is local, somewhere.

A bill in the state legislature would define “local seafood” as those species caught or grown in South Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia and make it a misdemeanor for anyone to say otherwise.

“My overall philosophy is, don’t lie to me,” said state Rep. Stephen Goldfinch, who introduced the bill last week. “Tell me the truth about what’s on the menu.”

The bill amends the current state law that covers mislabeling of foods. It prohibits wholesalers or retailers from selling “nonlocal seafood as local seafood.” It also extends the prohibition on false advertising of foods to include “the information contained on the menu of any establishment selling seafood.”

“That will be a big help to our commercial fishermen and our local markets,” Goldfinch said.

“Nothing wrong with that,” said Rick Baumann, owner of Murrells Inlet Seafood. He hadn’t heard about the bill, but said it’s already illegal to misrepresent fish under federal law. “It’s kind of an old issue, but it keeps coming up.”

Goldfinch said he is trying to stop imported seafood from being sold as local. “Our commercial fishermen are severely disadvantaged by the Asian market,” he said.

He has met with officials at the state departments of Natural Resources and Agriculture about administering the bill. Details will be added as it works its way through committee.

“There’s a large group of restaurants, and legislators that are hearing from their constituents, who are elated about it,” Goldfinch said. “By far it’s one of the most popular bills I’ve been involved with.”

“It would have a benefit to me,” said Bob Mimms, owner of Litchfield Beach Fish House. “Sometimes I think I pay too much for seafood, but I know where it comes from.”

Baumann said there may be some unintended consequences for restaurants if the bill becomes law. For example, every shrimp caught in the state would only supply a portion of the demand in the Grand Strand. The bill could drive up demand, and therefore prices, at a time when the catch is limited by both environmental and regulatory issues.

“It’s becoming harder and harder to get some species,” Mimms said.

But the both agreed that it would curb the sale of Asian catfish as grouper, a practice they say is common.

Goldfinch said he plans to introduce another bill that would include saltwater species in the state law that covers aquaculture to allow the Department of Agriculture rather than Natural Resources to have oversight of seafood once it leaves the dock.

“I want to ensure that fish is what they say it is,” Goldfinch said. “Wherever it comes from, I want Agriculture to tell us the truth.”

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