Mark & Kerry Marhefka
The son of a commercial fisherman, Mark Marhefka began fishing for a living the day after he graduated from high school in 1979. It wasn’t long before Mark bought his own boat, the Fishing Vessel Amy Marie, and has spent the years fishing the waters of the southeast from North Carolina to Florida. Kerry grew up in Maine and has fishing in her blood. Prior to joining Mark to run Abundant Seafood, Kerry was a fishery biologist for the Federal Government working primarily on establishing marine protected areas (MPAs) off the southeast US coast.
While fisherman and regulators tend to clash this was a different story. Kerry knew he was different when Mark showed up to a controversial meeting with his fishing charts that were marked with boxes around some of his best fishing spots insisting that those were the places the should become off limits to fishing and become marine protected areas. Many of Mark’s suggestions did become MPAs and Mark and Kerry became husband and wife!
OUR FISHING PRACTICES
AND AMY MARIE
The Fishing Vessel Amy Marie is a 39 foot “#1 Hull” fiberglass boat that was built in Key West Florida in 1985. She is powered by a Detroit Diesel 671 engine that gives her 175 horse power. Her average cruising speed it 7 knots. Captain Mark usually fishes with one or two other crew members. A typical fishing trip takes Mark and the crew 50‐ 60 miles offshore (just inside the Gulf Stream, where the current is too swift to bottom fish) and anywhere off the coasts of North Carolina, South Carolina or Georgia. During that trip the boat will move around quite a bit over 3-7 days. They never stay on a spot for long whether the fish are biting or not! All fish caught on the Amy Marie are caught on a vertical hook and line using a rod and reel system called “bandit gear” for its resemblance to a one armed slot machine. There are 4 electric bandit reels mounted on the stern deck of the Amy Marie each reel is rigged with a leader and a line with 2 hooks. Each line that is dropped is tended by hand until a bite is felt. Fish are immediately reeled in and any fish that can’t be kept due to regulations are carefully released alive. What we can keep is then gutted and put on ice. Mark and his crew take great pride in landing a high quality product when the fish hits the dock and the fish are well cared for both on deck and when packed away ice in the Amy Marie’s 6000 pound fish hold. In the days before the local food movement a good trip on the Amy Marie was 4000-5000 pounds of fish now we are abel to make a comfortable living and grow our business when she reaches port with only 1000-2000 pounds.
PROTECTING THE RESOURCE
IT'S WHAT WE DO
While it is can be a common perception that commercial fisherman want to catch anything they can at any cost to the resource, that is certainly not the case with the vast majority of fisherman that are involved in the snapper grouper fishery in the South Atlantic, and it is certainly not true of Mark. Both Mark and Kerry have long resume of working closely with the scientists and the government to improve the health of the resource and the viability of the industry.
Mark began as an advisor to the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council in the 90s, serving as chairman of both the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council’s Snapper Grouper and Marine Protected Areas Advisory Panels as well as having participated in many stock assessments and other resource management bodies. Through the years Mark has worked very closely conducting research with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, the National Marine Fisheries Services, and Pew Environmental Group and others. Projects have included testing electronic fishing logbooks at sea, identifying spawning sites of deepwater grouper in need of protection and quantifying regulatory discards. Kerry now serves on the Snapper Grouper Advisory Panel as well the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council’s System Management Plan Working Group. She has worked with the North Atlantic Marine Alliance and the Business Alliance for Protection of the Atlantic Coast to fight drilling off the South Carolina Coast.
A BIT OF HISTORY
For most of Mark’s fishing career he followed the traditional business model in which fishermen would come in from a fishing trip and tie their boats up at seafood dealer’s dock and sell his entire catch to that dealer who then usually sold the catch to a bigger seafood wholesaler. The fish caught in the Charleston area would often trucked to markets in Atlanta, Baltimore and New York before being shipped far and wide and including back to Charleston to end up on our dinner plates. In 2006, faced with tighter fishing regulations and other financial burdens we knew the future meant we needed to make more money with less fish. Mark took a leap of faith and went out on his own. By cutting out the middleman and selling our catch directly to local restaurants we were able to catch less fish and keep the fish that we caught in the local food chain with only a few miles between the boat and the plate. This move allowed Kerry to join the family business. In 2010 they expanded by starting one of the first Community Supported Fishery programs in the country. Now the fish that Mark (and a few elect like-minded fisherman pals) catches in on the menu at most of the best restaurants in the Carolinas and also being cooked in family kitchens around the Lowcountry.
WE ARE SUSTAINABLE
We are committed to the principle that the fish in the ocean are a shared resource. We are simply catching it for those who enjoy eating it but can’t catch it themselves. In that spirit we work both on the water and off to ensure that the populations of fish we rely on, and the habitat they rely on, are managed so there will plenty of fish for generations to come.