On the spot: Mike Merrifield, Wild Ocean

Published on
June 21, 2010

Like many ocean-side fish markets, Wild Ocean Seafood Market in Titusville, Fla., has made a name for itself by supplying quality, local seafood. In the case of Wild Ocean — a retailer, wholesaler and distributor — local specialties include Florida rock shrimp, stone crab, mullet, Spanish mackerel and kingfish.

While Wild Ocean’s parent company, Cape Canaveral Shrimp Co., has been in business for around 40 years, Wild Ocean’s two retail and wholesale locations have been open for around five years. The biggest challenge the business faces, according to co-owner Mike Merrifield, is access to product due to fishing restrictions. Merrifield talked to SeafoodSource about new restrictions and the importance of supplying wild, local seafood.

Blank: What kind of niche market have you developed at your stores in Cape Canaveral and Titusville?
Merrifield: The niche that we have picked up over time is local Florida product and wild-caught. While we do get questions on sustainability, we get more questions on local and wild. More and more, people are becoming more educated and interested in knowing where the food they put in their mouths is coming from. Our mission statement is that we want to educate people about their food choices … including where it comes from and how it is handled.

We have recently become involved in the Slow Food Movement, a movement away from fast food and toward being more cognizant of where your food is coming from. We go to events with the local Slow Foods chapter, where consumers can learn about how the product is grown and processed, and set up stations alongside local producers. From there, a lot of chefs have had interest in our product, and we deliver to a lot of them directly now.

What types of seafood are important to your retail and wholesale customers?
Quite a few restaurants that we supply are dedicated to providing only Florida product. We distribute into Orlando and as far south as Miami. Shrimp is probably the biggest portion of our business. We push around 1 million pounds of shrimp into the market, for all of our businesses.

What is the biggest challenge facing your retail and wholesale business?
Fishing bans and regulations across the board. There seems to be more and more pressure coming down to limit the harvest of the ocean. I feel like there has been a concerted effort over the last 10 years or so to give commercial fisheries a bad name, and it is not deserved. The South Atlantic Fisheries Management Council just passed the red snapper fishing ban, but that is just the beginning. The council is being driven by the Magnuson Act to have management plans in place for all species by 2011.

In my opinion, there is not enough time to do the science to come up with plans for all these species. People are trying to … see if we can get assistance from our government, to help us and to do this in a manner that is less socially and economically disruptive. I have been in Washington, D.C., and we attend all these meetings, to give input to the process. It is an added expense, which wasn’t there before.

How is the Gulf of Mexico oil spill impacting your business?
We don’t know yet how that is going to impact us, and where it is going to migrate to. We have already seen some impact in terms of price. We will start the season with shrimp that is going to cost a bit more; it is up about USD 1 per pound. The price depends on the size, but 16-18, head-on white shrimp is selling for around USD 4.50 per pound wholesale. We have gotten calls from new customers, and large customers are trying to lock in prices before they go up. Two weeks after the oil spill happened, people came in and stocked up their freezers. That has come to a halt now. People are realizing that we are going to have product availability, that it is not going to be outrageously expensive, and it is going to be safe.

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