By Erika Scannell
Destin and fishing is as synonymous as July 4th and fireworks. This once “sleepy little fishing village” is slowly becoming a world-class vacation destination, with visitors from all parts of the globe trekking to this small, sparsely year-round populated, previously little-known Florida panhandle region. But some things remain the same, no matter how many international and celebrity visitors this pristine area receives: the southern charm and hospitality of the locals, the beach and the fishing!
On the Coast recently had the pleasure of catching up with one such local and fishing enthusiast, Mr. Charles Morgan. As a father of four, he is passionate about his family, his community and fishing – and not just the act of catching fish. Morgan is an activist in ensuring that locals and visitors alike not only have access to fresh-caught, straight-out-of-the-gulf fish and but also understand the difference between farm-raised, imported, commercial kitchen fish and authentic gulf water fish. One common misconception many locals and visitors alike have is that all the seafood sold and served here is locally caught. However, Morgan says, “That simply is not always the case.”
Morgan knows these waters and its natural inhabitants. He grew up in Atlanta and has been around these waters his entire life. As a young man on his own for the first time in 1977, he made his living as a fisherman. After a long, hot and sometimes grueling day on the waters hauling in fish, he and his mates simply wanted a place to unwind, kick back, and enjoy a beverage and the fruits of their labor. Thus, the idea for Harbor Docks was born.
Now, 35 years later, Harbor Docks restaurant still stands in its original location and still offers local fisherman and visitors a place to unwind and enjoy cold beverages and fresh local fares from the gorgeous emerald green waters of the area. But it’s not just the longevity of the restaurant that needs to be noted; it’s the passion and the quality of the catch that matters most to this older man of the sea. So, over the years, Harbor Docks has expanded to include a commercial seafood market on the water. Fishermen can dock their boats alongside the building’s underbelly, unloading fresh catch that will soon become the day’s special. “Its unique, that’s for sure,” says Morgan. “One of the most precious things we have is our relationship with commercial fisherman — that’s how you get fresh fish.” Destin Ice, Sextons, and Ariel Seafoods are the other wholesale fish houses that restaurants buy from, but much of what we eat on the coast is not from this area and in fact is not fresh at all but rather imported from overseas.
So how can locals and visitors tell they are getting truly authentic fresh-caught local fish? For starters, the Harbor Docks website lists local restaurants that purchase their fish directly from Harbor Docks seafood market and commercial fishermen. Secondly, price. “Sadly enough,” says Morgan, “If it’s cheap, it’s probably not the real deal.”
“Fishing for an income is a hard way to make a living. There are so many factors that hold you back, everything from regulations, licensing, weather, the ever-increasing availability of imported fish, economic pressures, fuel, labor, the danger of being on the water and in an environment you can’t control all affect the cost of fresh-caught fish. In most businesses, limited supply and high demand equals someone getting rich - except for fresh caught fish!”
So why does he do it? Morgan quotes Confucius: “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” Morgan loves to fish. He loves his community. These are his passions. “It is pure joy. For some of us, it’s not all about the money.” Even for a steak lover like Morgan, there is something distinct and unforgettable about fresh out-of-the-gulf local fish and seafood. “The product put out by Harbor Docks is trustworthy and the real deal. In fact, bring your own fresh-caught fish, and the chefs will even prepare something wonderful for you!”
For more information about fresh fish, mislabeled fish, the dangers of consuming imported fish and to find a complete list of local, trusted restaurants, visit www.harbordocks.com