Lawmaker taking steps to ensure local seafood lives up to its name

Local fish sold at Murrells Inlet Seafood.

MURRELLS INLET, S.C. (WPDE) - A Georgetown County lawmaker wants to see more truth in food labeling. State Representative Stephen Goldfinch, Jr. of District 108, recently introduced a bill requiring certain standards be met when a business sells seafood. Under bill H 3987, which redefines food, seafood, and local seafood, the label "local seafood" means it's caught or grown in South Carolina, North Carolina or Georgia. Under the bill, violators would be charged with a misdemeanor.

Goldfinch used to be a commercial spear fisherman, so he knows a thing or two about seafood.

"A number of friends of mine have come to me and said we just cannot compete anymore. The shrimpers and the longliners and the bandit reel guys cannot compete anymore with the Asian market," he explained.

Along the Grand Strand there are hundreds of restaurants to choose from. Many, offering seafood, promise what you're eating is locally grown. Goldfinch says some businesses aren't being completely honest. "There's one local restaurant that sells a fish they call it island fish and tell you it's a cousin of the grouper, a white flaky fish, and it's an asian carp."

Goldfinch goes on to say he simply wants businesses to tell the truth.

Murrells Inlet Seafood owner Rick Baumann agrees. Inside his shop, signs let customers know exactly what they're getting and where it's coming from; from local to farm raised to wild. He is concerned about unintended consequences.

"If you say fresh local grouper, what do you have to do during the six months that the grouper season is closed? Do you have to change your menu?" Baumann asked. "The perception of fresh local seafood is something you don't want to lose, because a good chef, a good cook knows how to take seafood no matter where it's from as long as it's fresh or frozen properly and he know how to make it into a quality dinner."

Because the cost of local seafood continues to rise, Baumann said businesses have relied on imports. If the measure passes, Baumann is concerned about enforcement.

Goldfinch forsees following in the steps of our southern neighbor. "Florida has a particular program right now with their Department of Agriculture where they will randomly send testers in restaurants and seafood markets, take a swab of the seafood, and then they test it. This DNA bank that we have in Charleston is the perfect opportunity for us to utilize that and to get into using a system like Florida uses."

Goldfinch adds he's not trying to manipulate the market, he's looking for transparency. "If a restaurant can't support truth in seafood, then they're doing the wrong thing. If a fish market can't support it, they're doing the wrong thing. All you've got to do is tell the truth. That's not too much to ask."

"I applaud Stephen for having the sensitivities for the commercial fisherman, for our natural resources. He's a wonderful representative, and I wish him well with it," added Baumann.

The bill is currently in committee and could undergo some changes. Goldfinch is confident it'll pass in the House.