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North Carolina Aquaculture: Shipping Fresh Fish

With its abundant coastline, mountainous terrain and overall outdoorsy qualities, the state of North Carolina is a logical place for the cultivation of an aquaculture tha

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Jon-Michael Soracchi
March 23, 2020
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With its abundant coastline, mountainous terrain and overall outdoorsy qualities, the state of North Carolina is a logical place for the cultivation of an aquaculture that is responsible for shipping fresh fish to the rest of the country.

Figuring out what kinds of fresh seafood the state is most known for helping produce and in turn formulating the best course of action for shipping fresh fish is a must to be competitive in the seafood salespace. Fresh fish, like most meats, has an extremely short shelf life — knowing how to preserve and transport it will help grow profits.

The Fish of North Carolina’s Aquaculture Farms

The Fish of North Carolina’s Aquaculture Farms

As far as aquaculture goes, North Carolina is one of the leaders in America in the field. Looking at the variety of fish and crustaceans they raise for human consumption, it’s not hard to see why.

Aquaculture refers to farm raising fish and is a completely separate entity from commercial fishing, which also takes place in the Atlantic Ocean off the state’s ample coastline. In aquaculture, holding basins are used to corral the fish so that the oxygen levels in the water can be controlled. The water’s temperature is also able to be regulated.

In the state of North Carolina’s aquaculture, the range of fish is impressive. The aqua-farmers of the state grow:

  • Clams
  • Oysters
  • Crawfish
  • Trout
  • Hybrid Striped Bass
  • Catfish
  • Prawn
  • Baitfish
  • Ornamental Fish

Of the fish listed, trout is by far the most copious produced and much of that has to do with the western part of the state’s cool climate and mountainous terrain that has become conducive to producing millions of pounds of fish. Furthermore, because of minimal amounts of pollution in this area, there is cool, clean water for trout to thrive in. Also there is a smaller but growing demand to have trout stocked alive as recreational fish in lakes.

How much Fish does North Carolina Produce?

Three fish in particular make up a vast majority of North Carolina’s aquaculture output — trout, catfish and hybrid striped bass accounted for 86 percent of the total value for the industry in 2018.

By far, trout is North Carolina’s prized aquaculture contribution to the seafood world. In 2018, a little more than 5 million pounds of the fish were produced with a total combined value of $23.6 million. Trout alone accounts for 40 percent of the total value of North Carolina’s aquaculture 

Catfish and Hybrid Striped Bass are next on the list of the most produced fish via fisheries, with the pair combining for about 46 percent of the state’s yield in a given year. The pair of fish are prized for their edibility but both — especially the bass — are also stocked in freshwater where they can be fished for sport.

Shellfish like crawfish, clams, oysters and shrimp, plus ornamental and bait fish make up the rest. Shellfish are more likely caught in the wild and the amount actually farmed in North Carolina makes up less than 6 percent total of all fishery efforts in the state.   

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What Government Agencies Regulate Aquaculture Production?

Just like any other food produced in the United States, the government has set up agencies to oversee every aspect to make sure the seafood consumers eat is safe. On a federal level, the following two organizations have a large role in making sure that occurs:

  • The Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
  • The Department of Agriculture (USDA)

Other organizations that also help govern the aquaculture industry include:

  • The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS)
  • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

There is also the Joint Subcommittee of Aquaculture, and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection, which is under the USDA.

And those are just the federal agencies that help keep consumers safe. Each state, including North Carolina, has its own set of laws.

First off, any person or group practicing aquaculture in North Carolina needs to obtain an Aquaculture Operation Permit (AOP) through the North Carolina Department of Marine Fisheries (NCDMF). This is for fish produced for eating, as well as other reasons.

Also, the North Carolina Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services (NCDA&CS) must issue an operator a license (free of charge) to own or operate an aquaculture facility. Furthermore, if the operator needs to install a well, they’ll need to contact the NC Division of Water Resources.

Compliance with these organizations is mandatory, not optional. Failure to comply with any of these government bodies can result in fines, temporary closures in order to take corrective actions or permanent closure for serious or frequent violations. It is up to the aquaculture operator to know the rules and regulations.

How to Make a Seafood HACCP Plan

How to Make a Seafood HACCP Plan

A Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) is a way to pinpoint and handle hazards — biological, physical or chemical — during the entire process of growing or procuring the seafood to distribute it for eating. This also includes in-between steps like storage, handling and production.

The goal of this HACCP system is to reduce risks to an acceptable level or to eliminate them completely and having such procedures in place are a necessity for any party raising fish as food. The examples of seafood that are covered under this is all inclusive, which obviously covered farmed fish and shellfish.

While there are some parties along the supply chain that are exempt from HACCP regulations, those running fisheries are not among the exempted. Two federal regulations — Good Manufacturing Practices (21 CFR 110) and Seafood HACCP (21 CFR 123) — have to be followed by all manufacturers of seafood.

In order to have an approved HACCP plan, the first prerequisite is having effective sanitation in place. In order to properly evaluate this, the following aspects should be equally monitored:

  1. Safe water quality
  2. Maintaining hand washing or sanitizing stations, and properly cleaning toilet facilities.
  3. Water cleanliness and safety
  4. Eradicating or preventing any pests
  5. Making sure employees are healthy and controlling conditions to help ensure this
  6. Properly labeling, storing and using toxic chemicals
  7. Protection of seafood and its packaging from adulterants
  8. All food contact surfaces should be in good condition and clean

The FDA will inspect your facility to make sure it is adhering to a Seafood HACCP plan and Good Manufacturing Practices. A resource that the inspector will use to make determinations on the hazards and how to control them is The Fish and Fishery Products Hazards and Controls Guidance. After examining the required records, the inspector can make the judgement on the efficiency of your HACCP plan. A report will be issued; once the operator of the fishery goes over it, then questions or concerns can be addressed. In fact, the FDA anticipates certain natural queries to arise and has addressed those in one place.

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How to get HACCP Certified

Getting certified for a HACCP plan is a fairly straightforward process. While it may seem a bit time-consuming, it shows that the FDA takes the safety of the nation’s seafood supply chain very seriously.

The steps to complete before being allowed to set up your fishery and sell the fish include: 

  • Find a commercial processing facility that meets the Food Establishment Minimum Construction Standards. 
  • Receive a training certificate in HACCP principles for fish and fishery products or be able to demonstrate an equivalent knowledge. 
  • Complete your registration with FDA to be in compliance with the Bioterrorism Act. 
  • Perform a hazard analysis on EACH fish and fishery product that you wholesale. 
  • Prepare a HACCP Plan for each fish and fishery product in which you identified as a hazard. 
  • Prepare to document monitoring of the eight key areas of sanitation that apply to your operation.

At a minimum, standardized training or equivalent job experience is required to perform HACCP plan development, re-assessment and modification. Additionally, record review of Critical Control Point monitoring, corrective actions, and process control instrument calibration must be conducted by a trained or otherwise qualified individual (21 CFR 123.10). To meet the training requirement, the Seafood HAACP Alliance Basic HACCP training course or both Segment 1 (online course) and Segment 2 (live course) must be successfully completed; other courses may be acceptable.

How to Manage the Seafood Cold Chain

How to Manage the Seafood Cold Chain

Before diving into how to manage a seafood cold chain, it’s important to know what one is. This is related to keeping the fish cold from the moment it is caught at 32 degrees fahrenheit (0 degrees celsius). This is essential so that fish is at its freshest and it reduces potential spoilage. 

Any time the temperature rises above 33.8 degrees fahrenheit (1 degree celsius), the cold chain is considered broken, which will only increase the amount of loss experienced. Extreme temperatures in general should be avoided

The most simple cold chain possible is:

Fisheries > transport > retailer

With less steps in the cold chain, it would stand to reason that there is also less room for error. But vigilance is still required by all parties. 

For the purposes of a full-on aquaculture operation, the more complicated cold chain looks like the following and would require a lot more collaboration and care to ensure the supply chain isn’t broken:

Fisheries > transport > collectors > transport > auctions > transport > wholesaler > transport > retailer

There may be multiple points of transport because, in some cases, it is not always a simple transfer of seafood from the fishery to the end customer. As far as the transport company is concerned, a competent one will help keep the cold chain alive during the loading, storing, transport and unloading of the product during its duties.

Looking for a solution to move truckload freight? R+L Global Logistics handles truckload shipping. Let us know when and we'll handle the rest.

In order to make sure the cold chain hasn’t been broken, temperature monitors are used on a continuous basis to prove the chain has been maintained. Having working temperature monitors is a key ingredient but also having workers and partners you can trust to follow the appropriate procedures is also key. 

If you’re a fishery owner/operator, chances are multiple people employed by you in one regard or another will be responsible for maintaining the cold chain. So only partner with those that you know you can count on not to let your fish rot before reaching those who will eventually eat them.  

In the high value fish market, even under a constant cold chain, fresh fish needs to be cooked and consumed within 8 to 9 days from being taken out of the water if it is not going to be frozen. The sooner, the better is the best rule to adhere to.

Packaging Fish for Shipping

Packaging fish for shipping is a very important aspect of the process that, when done right, can really help prevent unnecessary spoilage and losses.

For fish, the process to getting them ready for being packaged is simple: the fish are caught, beheaded, have their guts removed, and are then skinned and filleted. This is referred to as the primary process. If the fish in question are going to be converted into something such as fish fingers or coated fish steak, then that is known as secondary processing.

In general, you’d have to go to a reputable fish market or a grocery store that explicitly states that the fish they are selling you has never been frozen. Otherwise, there’s a pretty good chance that even “fresh” fish has been previously frozen.

However, there’s a better chance that fish plucked out of a North Carolina river, lake or other aquaculture facility will be fresh and need to be packaged well. The fish can be packaged in insulated containers with ice to keep them at the desired temperature, and it will be paired with a refrigerated truck to make sure the cold chain isn’t broken.

Using ice is standard practice but you want to make sure the fish doesn’t suffer from freezer burn either, as that will affect its taste. Besides keeping the fish cold en route, it’s good to use ice so that the fish is already chilled before getting on a truck.  

Shipping Fresh Fish by the Truckload

Loading fresh fish onto a truck and transporting it to all points in the U.S. still stands as the most efficient way to ship massive quantities of seafood

Dealing with the shipment of fresh fish is a delicate balancing act. While other animal-based products also deal with a short turnaround, fish can go bad quickly and be unfit for human consumption. With this high degree of perishability, streamlining the delivery process can help limit the loss of valuable seafood lost on trucks before it reaches restaurants or grocery stores.

The first thing that must be accounted for is controlling the temperature of the truck that is transporting the seafood. A refrigerated truck would be the best bet because the cold would slow the fish’s natural decaying process and buy the shipper some value time en route to stores and restaurants.

Coupling with a refrigerated truck is staying on a strict schedule delivery-wise. Fresh fish is the exact opposite of non-perishable food, so any delay at all can certainly affect the customer’s end. This is even for storage purposes since fresh fish is a high turnover item that is cycled in and out quickly.

The one advantage farmed fish should have over wild-caught fish is the quantity per truckload will remain relatively steady since the science of running a fishery is more stable than hoping the casting of lines or nets in a river, lake or ocean comes up with the same amount each day.

Finding an expert logistics company that can navigate the lanes of successfully shipping seafood without unnecessary spoilage is invaluable.

If for some reason the fish must be transported while still alive, they should be shipped in special containers that hold water and are extra saturated with oxygen to combat ammonia and carbon dioxide from the natural respiration of creatures with gills.  

Shipping Seafood with R+L Global Logistics

Once your seafood has grown to be harvested, let R+L Global Logistics help with shipping your fresh fish to any destination. We have temperature-controlled vehicles to ensure your fresh trout, catfish or whatever you’re shipping arrives in optimal condition. For those times when it needs to be even faster, we offer expedited shipping to meet your needs. If you need to ship roasted coffee, fish or other freight, we have you covered. We have a variety of freight services to meet your needs.

Whether you are freight shipping from North Carolina to New York or to any point in the United States, R+L Global Logistics has over a 99% rate of on-time delivery. So you can have the confidence that your fishy freight will get where it has to go before it has the chance to go bad. There is real-time freight visibility to let you know exactly where your shipment is at a given moment, which is paired with our customer service team to answer any questions you may have before, during or after transport.

Shipping fresh fish is a time-sensitive endeavor in need of a trusted partner, which R+L Global Logistics can serve as. Receive a free freight quote today and call us at (866) 353-7178.

Looking for a solution to move truckload freight? R+L Global Logistics handles truckload shipping. Let us know when and we'll handle the rest.

What government agencies regulate aquaculture production?

On a federal level, the following two organizations have a large role in making sure that occurs:
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
The Department of Agriculture (USDA)
Other organizations that also help govern the aquaculture industry include:
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS)
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

What are the fish of North Carolina's aquaculture farms?

In the state of North Carolina’s aquaculture, the range of fish is impressive. The aqua-farmers of the state grow:
Clams
Oysters
Crawfish
Trout
Hybrid Striped Bass
Catfish
Prawn
Baitfish
Ornamental Fish

How do you get HACCP certified?

The steps to complete before being allowed to set up your fishery and sell the fish include: 

Find a commercial processing facility that meets the Food Establishment Minimum Construction Standards. 
Receive a training certificate in HACCP principles for fish and fishery products or be able to demonstrate an equivalent knowledge. 
Complete your registration with FDA to be in compliance with the Bioterrorism Act. 
Perform a hazard analysis on EACH fish and fishery product that you wholesale. 
Prepare a HACCP Plan for each fish and fishery product in which you identified as a hazard. 
Prepare to document monitoring of the eight key areas of sanitation that apply to your operation.

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