TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) — With demand from restaurants still down due to the pandemic, north Florida fishermen have found a way to keep their small businesses alive while helping feed hundreds of neighbors in need. Their catch of fresh, local fish is heading to nearby food banks.
The Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders’ Alliance and Fish for America USA announced a collaborative effort to provide fresh, local seafood to food banks in north Florida as the organizations work to meet the continued, record need due to the lingering economic hardship created by COVID-19.
This week, they’re delivering the first of what will be 13,000 pounds of fresh, red snapper to Second Harvest of the Big Bend, which continues to report a major increase in need due to the economic hardship created by the pandemic.
The work in north Florida is part of an effort across the country to make sure fresh, local seafood is available to the millions of American families currently in need - while also supporting small, independent fishermen.
A non-profit called Catch Together is raising funds to support these fishermen and fishing communities as they deal with their own hardships related to COVID-19.
So far, Catch Together has donated more than $5 million to purchase fish which is then delivered to the food banks.
“With demand for seafood still way down, we’re all facing another really difficult year ahead,” said Jim Zurbrick, the president of Fish for America USA. “But this program will not only support fishermen in Steinhatchee, it also allows them to help feed our neighbors with healthy, local, sustainably caught seafood in a time of crisis.”
“In the last year, so many people who’ve never needed assistance before reached out for help,” said Monique Van Pelt, CEO of Second Harvest Food Bank of the Big Bend. “That’s why efforts like this are so important. It will take all of us to make sure everyone in north Florida has access to fresh, healthy food now and after the pandemic ends.”
Since the COVID-19 crisis began, Catch Together has provided more than 2 million meals.
“At the beginning of the pandemic, our main goal was to help these small-scale fishing operations which are so important to so many communities stay in business,” said Paul Parker, the founder of Catch Together. “But we quickly saw the growing need for healthy, nutritious food and knew we and our commercial fishing partners were equipped to help.”
Along with the current effort in Tallahassee, Catch Together is supporting several other efforts along the gulf including in Tampa/St. Pete, Galveston, Texas, and in several communities across Louisiana and Mississippi.