One of the joys of visiting the Bradenton Area is eating the super fresh locally caught fish and shellfish. Whether you order grouper, snook, mullet, cobia and a variety of clams, shrimp and stone crab, you can be confident that what’s on your plate was caught and harvested in a local fishery that is one of the most sustainably managed in the country. That means that fisherman keep the long-term future of the fishery and the health of the Gulf as a priority in their everyday operations. In practice, it can mean something as small as throwing back breeding-age female snook, and taking only one claw from stone crabs which can regenerate their claws. It can also mean working with local restaurant owners to serve the most abundant species, while leaving off the menu species that are becoming overfished.
You’ll notice that many restaurants change their menus frequently to reflect what seafood is in season at the moment. This is in large part because of the strong links between the numerous locally owned restaurants and the fishermen in the area. In some cases, the fish on your plate came in on a boat just hours before.
In the Bradenton Area, several initiatives are underway to keep the local fishing business a leader in sustainability.
“The commercial fishing culture here in Cortez is really deep-rooted. It goes back over 100 years. Now, the fisheries that we commercially fish here are some of the most sustainable in the United States,” said Captain Jarrod McKenzie, a local commercial and charter fisherman. “It’s our role to ensure that generations from now they can come out and catch the same crabs and the same fish for the next 100 years.”
In fact, says McKenzie, “The stone crab fishery is 100 percent the most sustainable fishery I’ve ever been a part of.”
McKenzie is correct: because stone crabs can re-grow their claws, when they are caught, only one claw is taken, and the crab is released back into the water. A year or two later, that same crab has a large claw and a small claw, and the fishermen will take the large claw, and again release the crab back into the water. Because stone crabs are generally only served from December through May, the crab fishery is healthy, and always growing and regenerating.
The snook fishery is another example of how the local fishing community prioritizes the long-term health of the fish population. McKenzie has caught young female snook, and routinely releases them back into the water so that they can breed.
One local restaurant group is highly involved in a creative way to improve water quality that directly affects the health of the local fisheries. Ed Chiles, owner of Beach House, Sandbar and Mar Vista restaurants, is a founding member of Gulf Coast Oyster Restoration and Recycling Program. Through this program, none of the restaurants’ clam and oyster shells are discarded, but are instead recycled. The used shells are re-purposed to create new oyster reefs.
Sustainable seafood on the menu
Here are a few restaurants where you can enjoy sustainable — and delicious — seafood from our local waters.
Tide Tables Cortez – It doesn’t get any fresher than the grouper on the menu here which is often cleaned right at the onsite docks. The menu’s fresh, classic Florida cuisine offers fish tacos, grouper, mahi mahi and seasonal shellfish. Named for the unbreakable bond between the rhythm of the tides and the commercial waterman’s way of life, this place is a tribute to traditional Florida fishing, and is committed to sustaining it for generations.
Beach House – Tide-to-table seafood combined with farm-to-fork produce are the hallmarks of the Mediterranean-inspired menu. Owner Ed Chiles has been a local leader in starting sustainability initiatives such as the Gulf Coast Oyster Recycling and Renewal Project, and Clams On Deck, both aimed at significantly improving water quality in order to protect the longevity of local fisheries.
Blue Marlin Seafood – The cuisine focuses on daily fresh fish brought in directly from the Cortez fishing fleet, including grouper, snapper, cobia, and hogfish. By making the cath of the day a menu focus, diners are served the absolute freshest fish and unique and in-season daily specials. More menu favorites include shrimp, stone crab and oysters and the local favorite Cortez smoked fish spread.
Sandbar Seafood & Spirits – Grouper, clams, shrimp and other local specialties are served in a historical location that has been the site of dining and celebrating since the early 1900s. Part of the Chiles Hospitality Group, Sandbar takes part in numerous sustainability initiatives.