Employee Bert Elliott tapes a "Fresh local shrimp" sign to the glass display case at Murrells Inlet Seafood on Wednesday May 29, 2013 after arrival of shrimp from McClellanville.

Misleading about whether seafood is local could be illegal

If you like tasty crustaceans smothered by grits in S.C. restaurants, but they come from Florida then the  restaurant owner would be breaking the law by calling them “local” shrimp, under a change that is currently working its way through the legislature.

The same goes for what grocery store called “local” grouper in there display cases which really come from Asia.

The new definition for local seafood would be added to the state’s current food labeling regulations in a bill, H.3297, which did make its way to the House Floor, but even if the bill does pass the House within the next two weeks the Senate won't even consider it until 2014.

Violators would face a misdemeanor charge, but the emphasis of the bill is less on punishment and more on making clearly illegal what local seafood industry leaders see as a deceptive practice.

“I think misrepresentation is rampant and always has been,” said Rick Baumann, owner of Murrells Inlet Seafood, who said his business has always labeled its seafood accurately. “Ninety percent or more of restaurants around here are not serving local seafood to honor what they put on their marquises, or what they put on their menus, but the public comes down here and they assume because they’re so close to the beach that that’s what they’re getting.”

Baumann says that is is difficult for restaurants to justify paying the high prices for seafood here because of the current economic times, diners don’t want to spend more and want to spend less. He said that local seafood is sold in other areas of the country as well as in Canada, where there are diverse populations that value fresh fish. 

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