Local spear-fisherman offers tech-assisted, just-in-time delivery
BY PAULA DETWILLER
Eric Finn slides his knife inside the curved carapace of a Florida Spiny Lobster, carves a halfcircle, and yanks the tail off the body. Then he breaks off six inches of the creature’s brittle antenna and, using it like a crochet hook, inserts it into a hole on the underside of the tail and deftly pulls out the slim, tubular intestinal tract.
He plunges the tail into a bucket of icy saltwater, discards the head, grabs the next lobster in the pile, and repeats the process. Carve, yank, devein.
When all the lobster tails are cleaned, Eric grabs a longer knife and proceeds to fillet the other ocean delicacies he caught that day: grouper, lionfish, cobia, and his specialty, hogfish, also known as the “filet mignon of fish.”
Eric’s been up since before dawn, when he left his Delray Beach apartment and headed over to his trailered fishing boat, stored at deckhand Chris Burke’s house. Most weekday mornings, he and Chris hitch up the trailer, drive to a local boat ramp, and shove off on another day of commercial spearfishing and lobster snaring on the southeast Florida coast.
As the first rays of sunlight hit the Atlantic, the pair motors toward a certain spot above a reef where Eric’s research tells him there’ll be fish. Within minutes he dons his scuba gear and descends to the reef, equipped with spear gun, lobster snare, and a mesh bag for stashing his catch.
This is a man who clearly loves his job.
“Cobia are fun because they’re really powerful,” he says. “When you spear one, you’ve got to really hold on because they’ll pull you around pretty good.”
“Grouper are pretty smart. You have to sneak up on them.”
“Hogfish you can’t catch with a hook and line. They’re filter feeders, they’ve got their noses in the sand looking for crab to eat. They’re not interested in bait fish on a hook.” And neither is Eric, the owner of Finn-Atic Fish Company of Delray Beach. He fishes mostly by spear gun, a technique that is lessthan- common among commercial fisherman.
But then again, Eric’s business model is a bit uncommon for the trade, too.
CATCH IT, POST IT, SELL IT, DELIVER IT
By midday, Eric and Chris are heading in with the day’s catch. From the deck of the boat, Eric fires up his smart phone and updates the “Available Today” list on his company’s website (finnaticfishco.com). The site displays photos, prices, descriptions, customer reviews, and even recipes for preparing all available fish.
Customers can browse and buy online—and if you place an order by 2 p.m., the same guy who speared it this morning and filleted it this afternoon will deliver it to your door this evening.
How’s that for knowing where your food comes from?
At 27, Eric has the skill, stamina, and drive to make this operation work. He’s also developed a network of local restaurants and fish markets that gladly buy what he has left over after filling his consumer orders.
One of those restaurants is 3rd & 3rd, a local hangout in Delray Beach specializing in seasonal fresh food. Owner John Paul Kline says he used to get fresh fish delivered by truck from a larger purveyor located 32 miles to the north. Now, he says, it feels good to support someone who “walks in the front door with a bucketful of fish that are almost still flipping.”
“Eric’s product comes right from here, and it’s great every time,” says Kline. “He’ll call us and say, ‘Hey, I have cobia or lionfish or grouper, can you use it?’ Most of the time we can. We’ll just put it up on the menu for that night.”
“Another great thing is, we can get the whole fish rather than just fillets, and utilize all the pieces,” Kline says. “We’ll smoke the bones and make a fish broth, or scrape the fish from between the ribs and make a tartare or ceviche.”
After launching the Finn-Atic website in late 2012 and snagging few buyers, Eric and his wife/business partner Lisa Finn quickly realized a critical fact: people like to see their fish.
“I mean, would you just go onto anybody’s website and order fresh fish without seeing it first?” Lisa says with a smile. “Probably not. So we started taking our catch to the Delray GreenMarket on Saturdays. Once people saw it and knew it was good, they felt comfortable ordering online.”
The Finns supplement their word-of-mouth advertising with Facebook posts, Tweets, and “Daily Catch” emails sent to an opt-in distribution list. In time, they hope to expand the business—but right now they’ll settle for a house to buy so they can park the fishing boat in their own yard and have more room for the ice machine, fillet table and fishing gear that crowds their apartment garage.
“We’re working together to see what we can do to make this business grow,” says Lisa. “It’s been a good journey for us.”
“It’s a dream job, for sure,” says Eric.
Finn-Atic Fish Company
Delray Beach, FL
561.789-8316 | email@example.com
QUOTES FROM A 21ST-CENTURY SPEAR-FISHERMAN
Eric Finn is a friend to local foodies, chefs and fishmongers—anyone who prefers the taste of fresh versus frozen fish. He is also a law-abiding fisherman who obtains all necessary permits, sends regular catch reports to state and federal regulators, and understands that his living is dependent upon the health of the ocean.
ON SUSTAINABLE FISHING
“The thing about spearfishing—it’s a selective way of harvesting. You take what you want, one fish at a time, and nothing is wasted. Other forms of commercial fishing, like gill netting, fish trapping, long lining—they take a huge toll on the ocean because of the bycatch [accidental capture of untargeted species], which needlessly traps and kills other fish and marine wildlife.” “There’s a group of consumers now that appreciates sustainable methods of fishing. They want spear-caught grouper as opposed to line-caught grouper. We’re meeting that demand.”
ON REDUCING AN INVASIVE SPECIES
“Lionfish is a non-native species that’s poisonous. It’s an aquarium fish originally from Asia that someone introduced here in the ‘80s. They have no natural predators, they kill all sorts of things, and they wipe out the reefs. So the only way to get rid of them is to kill them and eat them.”