A Big Catch for the Space Coast Economy

The Economic Development Commission of Florida’s Space Coast recently held its Executive Committee meeting at Wild Ocean Seafood’s bustling commercial fishing operation at Port Canaveral. This location was an exception for our gathering, as I and the three dozen or so business and community leaders who comprise our executive committee generally meet at the EDC offices.

But I was glad we all got a glimpse into the inner workings of this important industry; and with an annual direct economic impact of more than $14 million, commercial fishing is indeed an important industry here. At our meeting, we talked about how fishing – whether commercial or recreational – is clearly an impactful subsector of our economy. Its health and well-being are important to our broader economic prosperity.

Port Canaveral is actually home to two of the handful of commercial fishing docks along the state’s east coast – Wild Ocean and Seafood Atlantic. Together they work with several hundred ships both large and small to bring in tens of thousands of pounds of prized seafood every year from the more than 80 commercially harvested species available on our coast. From the famous rock shrimp and royal reds to golden tilefish, mahi mahi, yellowfin tuna and pompano to spiny lobster, blue crab and oysters, this stretch of the Atlantic has been, and remains, a fertile fishing ground.

Economic & Other Impacts
The impact of commercial fishing extends deep into our economy. According to the 2012 Economic Impact of Port Canaveral report, businesses positively impacted by fishing include fuel companies, engine mechanics, marine supply operators, trucking and shipping companies, dive shops, and even hotels, which are used by visiting fishermen.

And we do indeed get commercial fisherman coming to the port from outside Brevard. Drawn by seasonal harvests, these workers come from Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia, North Carolina and elsewhere. They inject money into our economy during their visits, of course, and I bet more than a few of them return with their families on vacation.

Dating back centuries – there is evidence of commercial fishing in Florida as far back as the late 17th and early 18th centuries, according to research cited by the Southeastern Fisheries Association – this industry is a key participant in contributing to the 9 percent or so of domestic seafood eaten in the U.S (the remaining 91 percent is imported).

And that’s another benefit – people know they can get the freshest seafood imaginable at local restaurants. “People come to Florida for local seafood,” noted Jeanna Merrifield, who owns Wild Ocean Seafood with her husband, Michael, and Sherri McCoy.

Let’s Wet A Line!
People also come to Brevard County to catch fish, and that highlights another important economic facet of our marine friends: recreational fishing.

Recreational fishing is a major tourism business for Florida, to the tune of nearly $5 billion generated in 2012 in total angler expenditures statewide, according to the August 2013 Economic Commentary from Florida TaxWatch. That was the most in the nation.

There are more than 80,000 jobs in the fishing industry statewide, including many here, from charter boat operators to bait and tackle shops to workers at one of Brevard’s newest retailers, Bass Pro Shops.

Beyond the dollars, fishing is an important part of our community identity. It is something that we are known for, and that we rightfully do plenty to highlight. It is an enticement for businesses and their employees as well, who are considering relocating to the Space Coast.

Overall, fishing is an important economic component, and something that we all benefit from. Think about that as you prepare to dig into a plate of steamed rock shrimp. And if the realization that you are helping support one of our underrated but essential industries spurs you to order another round of those delectable crustaceans, consider it an act of economic development.

Lynda Weatherman is president and CEO of the Economic Development Commission of Florida’s Space Coast.