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Something fishy is going on…and it’s not our seafood

Something fishy is going on...and it's not our seafood

The motto for Seaview Crab Company is “Moving Seafood Forward” but recent interactions with local government are making it difficult for us to strive toward this goal.

The Environmental Health Department and the Board of Health won’t allow us to sell fresh cut fish fillets at our Market Street location.

Though the Health Department previously allowed us – under the same regulations – to sell from a stationary mechanical refrigeration unit on Carolina Beach Road, they now say we can’t do it at another local location.

This limits your access to fresh local seafood.

Why are they re-interpreting the rules? We don’t know.

Seaview’s fishmongers cut the fresh fish into fillets at the Marstellar Street location, where it is immediately sealed into pristine plastic bags that protect fish from air and water and packed on ice in sealed coolers. It is then transported from Marstellar Street to the Market Street location.

The bags of filleted fish are never opened until the customer opens them at home.

Our open-air market concept has been an integral part of our company since its inception. We have been selling our seafood in the Sandhills every weekend at an open market for a decade, with great reviews and happy customers. The Health Department in Sanford, NC has had no problems or complaints regarding our operation. The open-air concept seafood market is not unprecedented. Iconic American seafood markets such as The Wharf in Washington, D.C. and Pikes Place Fish Market in Seattle, Washington are all “open air.” In addition, farmers markets across the state make room for fresh cut seafood.

We take pride in the seafood we sell and stand behind our products. Keeping our products iced and cool to the proper standards has been an essential part of our process for over 10 years and it is imperative that we sell fresh and safe seafood.

In fact, we asked health department officials if this increased scrutiny was based on complaints and they told us that it was not.

Because we cut the fish at our downtown location (which is a much better place to fillet a fish than at a roadside stand), the County says the fish have been “processed.”

And “processed” fish – which in the seafood industry typically means fish you cook, salt or chemically change in some way – falls under a lot of different regulations. We do not believe the language in the County’s policy prohibits making fillets out of whole fish.

We understand the need for regulations in the seafood industry. We are regulated by Shellfish Sanitation, the North Carolina Department of Agriculture, the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries and we operate under HACCP (Federal) regulations.

What we don’t understand is the selective enforcement of these rules, and why the process hasn’t been more transparent.

And, we don’t agree that filleted fish is processed.

Our back and forth with the New Hanover Environmental Health Department began in March 2017 with a series of phone calls, emails and an in-person meeting. These conversations led us to believe the Health Department wanted to modernize the typewritten 1993 county Seafood Ordinance and that we were going to be an integral part of that modernization.

However, this did not happen as the Health Department chose to interpret old rules to put an end to our cut fish sales and also to sales out of our refrigerated trailer.

We later learned that the Health Director had the power to give us a variance to operate because all of our seafood passes through a fully certified seafood market.

Once the Health Department denied us our permit, our only other option was to appeal the decision to the Board of Health.

We presented our case to the Board of Health in late May and several of the board members asked questions regarding the processing of fish and those inquiries appeared to lean in the favor of Seaview. In fact, the majority of the discussion by Health Board members left us with the impression we would receive a favorable response.

We were instructed to leave the meeting so that the Board could deliberate in private.

A week later we received a form letter, saying that our appeal was unanimously rejected by the Board of Health. There was no explanation given as to why we were rejected.

The behind-closed-doors deliberation, the disconnect between the questions by the Health Board members during the meeting and their subsequent decision, plus the lack of any explanation for the denial leads us to believe that the Board was simply going through the motions of holding an impartial hearing.

After the hearing, we discovered that, even if they wanted to re-interpret the rules, we still could have been approved for a variance by the Health Director. Further research into the ordinance shows us that we could have been permitted as a seafood market.

We have attempted to raise these questions with the Health Department, but our emails go unanswered. Because we have completed the county’s appeal process, it appears that they are finished with us as they no longer respond to our questions.

Our last option is to sue the health department in civil court, but we do not have the money or time to launch a case.

This whole process is foreign to ordinary citizens, fishmongers and fisherman like ourselves, but we believe that no matter the “health risks” that this board is assigning to our fresh filleted fish, it cannot match up to the health, social, and cultural risks associated with not giving more citizens access to wholesome North Carolina Seafood.

Let the County know you want fair government and fresh fillets on Market Street by emailing one or all of the Board of Health members today. (Contact information below)

Stephanie D. Smith, PhD, RN (nurse) stsmith@nhcgov.com
Robert J. Schiffel, DDS (dentist)
, rschiffel@nhcgov.com
Melody Evans (veterinarian)
mevans@nhcgov.com,
Amy McLane, PE
, amclane@nhcgov.com
Mark Morgan, MD
mmorgan@nhcgov.com,
Linda Robbins (Public member)
crobbins@nhcgov.com
Kim Horne (Pharmacist)
khorne@nhcgov.com
Dr. LeShonda Wallace (PhD, FNP-BC) (Public member)
lwallace@nhcgov.com
Edward Weaver, Jr., OD (Optometrist)
, edweaver@nhcgov.com
Rob Zapple (County Commissioner)
rzapple@nhcgov.com

 

 

 

13 Comments

  1. Christy Kramer

    Unfair!!
    Ridiculous!!

  2. Letitia

    There’s got to be more to this, bet there is money involved somewhere in this decision.

  3. Melody

    Totally uncalled for behavior by our New Hanover Cty Health Department.

  4. Phil Jewett

    Yet they allow roadside vehicles with ice chests to sell shrimp and other folks to post roadside signs with a phone number to call and purchase oysters and mussels. I don’t get it.

  5. Susan Dietsch

    The problem is the bureaucracy in NHCEHC. FULL STOP. They undermine small businesses every day because they can get away with it. They have no oversight. When I managed a small business with food and beverage related concerns, the business experiences the same double standards that you describe. I’m glad that you are speaking up!

  6. annie shirtz-layman

    SEEMS VERY UNFAIR! So, when I AM TRAVELING North from Pleasure Island, after a glorious day on the beach, where will I find y’alllll? Nothing like a day at the beach, to come home & grill some great seafood out back! I promise!!����������🌴����������

  7. Robin

    This is ludicrous! They need to be held accountable for their decisions and not just make them in private with no reason given for their verdict. Kudos to you for speaking up and demanding a change to this ridiculous rule which is being interpreted loosely.

  8. Bob Penna

    Just what this community needs…out-of-control bureaucrats making lives miserable simply because they CAN.

  9. Thomas Rubincan

    Some one has really pissed OFF somebody and they have a heavy hand over the board and are persuading them to vote against you . 👎🏽👎🏽👎🏽👎🏽👎🏽👎🏽
    SET UP A GO FUND ME PAGE !!
    GET ON ALL The social media sites . Facebook / Twitter etc.
    Get the word out and ask for funding !! DONT LET THIS JUST DIE AT THE HANDS OF A GROUP OF PEOPLE THAT UNFAIRLY VOTE BEHIND CLOSES DOORS !!
    THERES PLENTY OF UNJUST GOING ON HERE AND IT HAS TO BE RECTIFIED !!!

  10. John

    Who in the world picked this committee to determine a use permit for selling fish fillets? The county should at least choose people who are knowledgeable and have a background with regard to seafood. A veterinarian, a pharmacist, an optometrist, a dentist a registered nurse, while I respect their fields I cannot for the life of me understand how they are qualified to determine the direction of an established seafood market. Also what changed that would require a change in rules.

  11. Bruce Falk

    I find it interesting that I also have send Email that have not been answered. I hope you will at least talk to tv and radio people to try to have them get an answer. You also should bring this up at election time.
    you are entitled to an answer even if you don’t like it

  12. Bill Davenport

    We emailed every board member speaking in favor of Seaview Crab Company. We only received one response saying their decision was per established guidelines. Sad.

  13. Susan Crawford

    You must not put enough money in the right person’s hand. The Health Board should be more concerned with the tainted Cape Fear River water and disappearance of mostt of the greenspace now covered with apartments or empty strip malls hence the flooding when it rains. Remember VOTE.

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