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) firstname.lastname@example.org
Robert J. Schiffel, DDS (dentist) , email@example.com
Melody Evans (veterinarian) firstname.lastname@example.org,
Amy McLane, PE, email@example.com
Mark Morgan, MDmmorgan@nhcgov.com,
Linda Robbins (Public member) firstname.lastname@example.org
Kim Horne (Pharmacist) email@example.com
Dr. LeShonda Wallace (PhD, FNP-BC) (Public member) firstname.lastname@example.org
Edward Weaver, Jr., OD (Optometrist) , email@example.com
Rob Zapple (County Commissioner) firstname.lastname@example.org