The Boutique Fish Monger

 

haag2MOST LOCALS AND Visitors to the area are familiar with the larger than life proprietor, the charismatic and passionate fishmonger, Jon Haag. He fits the part; ruggedly hand- some with blond hair and blue eyes, and makes wearing tall rubber boots and waterproof overalls look good; perhaps influenced by the romantic notions of the tumultuous relationship between man and the sea and that of the longstanding seafaring industry of generations before; the entire staff at Haag and Sons makes their job, cutting and slicing fish, with their self imposed motto, “this job stinks”, look glamorous. And walking in? It’s cold, and it does stink in a seafood lover kind of good way. Bowls of fresh raw shrimp are sitting on ice bigger, biggest and jumbo, just steps away from the steam pot or grill . How to prepare? Lemon, garlic, butter, Old Bay, or, simply, chilled with cocktail sauce- the more horseradish the better.

Whole fresh fish are displayed on their own bed of ice. This day a huge freshwater shovel head catfish, (it had whiskers), from the Cape Fear River took center stage. Flanked by snowy grouper, trigger fish, and the vermillion snapper with it’s distinctive red color. The ice bed is capped by a humongous hogfish and the shiny yellow speckled large golden tile. Local mussels and oysters piled on swatches of burlap are ready for the neighborhood oyster roast or low country boil.

Haag and Sons Seafood opened its retail and wholesale storefront on the Yaupon Beach-Long Beach line, 7901 East Oak Island Drive, Oak Island, NC, in 1995. Jon Haag’s venture in the fish business started years before in Southport, with the initiative of selling local fish inland. “The fish”  docked  here were being shipped north. With such a wonderful resource-leaving, Jon pushed the wholesale fish trade to the Piedmont, providing North Carolina restaurants North Carolina fish and shrimp, which, in turn, provided it to the consumer.

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Zack Carter, Dave Beresoff, Jon Haag, Brett Swain, Lisa Beresoff.

Photo by Rebecca Jones

That  innovative  spirit  has  carried Haag and Sons Seafood through years of changes in  government regulations economical , environmental, and personal ups and downs, keeping employees with jobs and the doors open in this small coastal community. Jon has stayed on the forefront of the fish world, educating himself to help educate the public. He is on the Board of Brunswick Catch which is a part of NC Catch, a non-profit focused on promoting a sustainable seafood industry, “saving fisherman-saving and restoring the ecosystem”.

“This explains the purpose so well,” says Haag, pointing out excerpts from an article by National Geographic Fellow, Barton Seavor, a chef and sustainable seafood advocate, a man who Haag admires,and is  influenced  by, and “would team up with in any form or fashion,”-”this is what we want to do, is bring the small farm initiatives that have been happening across the country to the seafood industry and help maintain sustainable fisheries  where  the  resource  is  nurtured”. For Brunswick county that is the Snapper – Grouper Fishery, which includes 73 species, and the Shrimp Fishery, both are “critical for survival in wholesale and resale trade and indigenous to the Carolinas”, emphasizes Haag. “ Every Fishery in Federally regulated waters has quotas and catch limits,  and  are  only  allowed  to  have certain  things  at  certain  times  of  the year”. “We function like a boutique and hand pick what is available from small scale sustainable boats, “ explains Haag. “January 1st, vermilion snapper, and trigger fish were both opened in the Snapper-Grouper Fishery.”

“The trigger fish is very versatile:, bake, fry , broil or grill up. The snapper is great for baking, both fish are white and flaky, and not to be overlooked, the golden tile, a deep water 800 to 1000 feet cold water fish which is a bit sweet in flavor,” explains Jon, and for taste, “you can’t beat cooked WHOLE, head and all and it’s delicious,” and he can’t resist adding with a good smile, “so it has bones get over it” , there is laughter, and the bell on the door rings, more people come  in, the shrimp is scooped up, the fish is cut to order, and the conversation twists and turns; the fish swapping, story telling are where, “feeding people and the community connection is“ says Haag, and it is the most rewarding catch of  the day.

Haag and Sons

7901 E Oak Island Dr., Oak Island (910) 278-1234

www.haagandsonsseafood.com

 

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