New seafood market stresses local catch

Owners Scott Akey, left, and Paul Godbout outside of Sellsfish Premium Seafood, their new fresh seafood shop located on North Main Street in Summerville. <br />

Fishing boat captain, entrepreneur, political activist, underground celebrity, Paul Godbout seems to be covering all the bases these days.

Godbout, a long-time local commercial fisherman and businessman recently partnered with Scott Akey to open Sellsfish Premium Seafood, a new market specializing in higher end, higher quality, local fish and seafood.

“Most of the markets around here are going to be crab markets that sell a little fish,” he said. “I’m the opposite – I’m a fish market that sells a little crab.”

If he doesn’t have what you want, he will get it for you. If he can’t get it then it probably doesn’t exist, he says with a laugh.

But Godbout does much more than just sell local seafood.  

“I’m all about educating people,” he said. “I have the knowledge, the expertise, the experience. I know the people in the business. So why not share the information? The more people know and understand about what swims in our waters the better we all are.”

As Godbout has been fishing Carolina waters for some 25 years, he knows how, when, where, and what to catch. He knows what species are plentiful and what need to be allowed to replenish numbers.  

He knows what to look for in quality and freshness. Having worked with high-end area restaurants for years, including such culinary icons as Magnolia and Charleston Grill, he has an insider’s knowledge on cooking and preparation techniques.

“If someone comes in and wants a certain piece of fish, but doesn’t really know what to do with it, I can help,” he said. “I have cooked everything we sell in here and I’ve worked with some of the best chefs in the area.”

In fact, he has at least one “head start” that is rapidly becoming one of his biggest sellers: flounder filet with a crabmeat, shrimp, and cream cheese stuffing.

“You just bake it for 25-30 minutes,” he said. “I can’t keep them in here.”

Godbout has another reason for opening the business, he said.

“I want to help keep American fishermen fishing,” he said. You will very few imports here.”

A major advocate of truth in menu laws, which require restaurants to accurately disclose what’s on their menus – South Carolina does not have a truth in menu law – Godbout deplores some restaurants’ and certain retailers’ practice of bringing in poor quality imports, such as Pangasius Catfish, which is known by different names such as Swai, Trang, or Basa.

“They are raised in bulk in the Mekong Delta in literally the nastiest water on the planet,” he said. “They’re passed off as something else -- domestic catfish, flounder, grouper, snapper – but it’s really cheap Vietnamese catfish. If you go to a restaurant and there’s a piece of grouper on the menu for under $10, it’s not a grouper – it’s probably this being passed off as a grouper.”

Between government regulations and such hindrances as catch limits that are too often promulgated by bureaucrats and scientists who appear to know very little about fishing and cheap, low-grade foreign import products, the U.S. fishing industry is in peril, he says. For example, a recent moratorium on black sea bass was put into place allegedly because numbers were down and the species is becoming endangered.

Yet Godbout insists this is the best year in 20 years he’s seen as far as black sea bass numbers.

“There’s so many of them they’re covering up other fish we want to catch – we can’t get to the triggerfish because the bass eat the bait before it can get down to the bottom.”

Another species moratorium that makes no sense to him – or most other fishermen -- is the one on red snapper, again put into place because of alleged low numbers.

Yet one of Godbout’s friends recently shot an underwater video, right off Charleston Harbor, which clearly shows huge numbers of red snapper swimming Carolina waters.

That video, and many others made by Godbout and others, is on YouTube. In fact, it is because of one of those videos that Godbout is about to do his second appearance on National Television – he appeared on “Good Morning America” last year – a new show on the History Channel called “Hairy Bikers.” The show is a remake of a British series in which two bikers travel the country hunting and fishing with various locals in different places. Godbout recently took them flounder gigging in the Ashley River.

“We caught fish – and we had an absolute blast,” he said. The show is supposed to air later this year.

While Sellsfish Premium Seafood has been open about a month – the shop’s official grand opening is actually September 17 – Godbout says the reception thus far has been most gratifying.

“I was absolutely overwhelmed by how well we did the first two weeks,” he said. “We’ve had nothing but positive feedback.”

“I think we’re going to do very well here,” he said.

For more information call 871-0640 or visit the Sellsfish Premium Seafood Facebook page.