STEINHATCHEE, Fla. (WTXL) — The coronavirus pandemic has hit fishermen hard across the country. Now, a nonprofit is casting a lifeline to an industry so many depend on. It’s not only saving jobs; it’s also feeding families desperate for fresh food.
The small, fishing community of Steinhatchee has weathered many storms over the years.
“Who’s to say what happens next year? God forbid,” said Jim Zurbrick. He and his wife Patty have been here through most of them, including the one no one forecasted, the coronavirus pandemic.
“With 80 percent of all seafood consumption going through restaurants and retail,” Zurbrick explained, “everything was shut down.”
As businesses closed for safety, sales here dried up for everyone.
“You can’t take a vessel this size with all the expense and go out and only catch 500 pounds of fish,” explained Patty Zurbrick. “We need to at least be able to catch 1,000 pounds.”
That’s where Paul Parker comes in.
“We were working on ideas to help out,” Parker said. He is president of the nonprofit, Catch Together. They have been working to raise money to support fishing operations across the nation.
“There were going to be a lot of hungry people out there and fishermen out of work, and that was the basic genesis of the idea,” Parker added.
The idea is to pay fishing operations for their catches. The money that comes from Catch Together helps the Zurbricks take their boat out on the Gulf of Mexico and catch fish to donate to Second Harvest.
“This is another example of a local business taking the lemons of COVID-19 and making lemonade,” shared Monique Van Pelt. She is at the nonprofit, Second Harvest of the Big Bend.
“A direct gift to the food bank is really important because of the ways it diversifies the protein,” Van Pelt added.
The mission is feeding families who are working to get back on their feet as the Zurbricks are working to get back out on the water.
“All the people that I’ve come into contract with at the food bank are appreciative,” said Jim. “They’ve enabled us to go out and catch 3,000 pounds of fish,” added Patty.
About 13,000 pounds of red snapper caught by local Florida fishermen will be processed by Lombardi’s Seafood and donated to Second Harvest of the Big Bend. Since the COVID crisis began, Catch Together has provided more than $5 million in grants to purchase fish from fishermen on every coast and send it to nearby food banks.