From the bow of a boat bobbing in Cape Lookout, you can sometimes catch the sun skimming across the waters — clearer than most Atlantic waters — and you can start to understand why it’s called the Crystal Coast.
Capt. Frank Askew grew up fishing on those waters on six-pack boats, bottom boats, and everything in between, working for commercial fisheries before settling down with his wife in Hendersonville. But, like a fish out of water, despite his mountain address, in 2017, Askew and his friend Jeff Clossey decided to open their own fishing company, to provide the mountains of North Carolina with the same quality of seafood they grew up with.
Every week, Askew drives out to Morehead City, where his boat is anchored, makes his way somewhere between Cape Hatteras and Cape Lookout, and casts his lines. Once he has his catch, he brings the entire haul back to the mountains — an 800-mile round trip — where he sells it to restaurants and local markets. (Mahi, wahoo, tuna, grouper, flounder, crabs, oysters, scallops, King mackerel, gray Tile, and many more kinds of seasonal fish are typically on the menu.)
“The best seafood, in my book, is from the Outer Banks,” says Askew, noting that with imported fish, consumers aren’t able to judge the quality, since the U.S. has much stricter standards than a lot of other countries. “Keep it in state and keep all the imported stuff out. That is the safe, sustainable thing to do.”
Though Simply Caught is committed to regional fish, it practices a 350-year-old method of humane slaughter called Ikejime. Common in places like Japan, but rarely used by fishers in the States, Ikejime debilitates the fish’s nervous system to allow them a quick, relatively painless death. It also stops the body of the fish from going into rigor mortis and releasing ammonia and lactic acid, which can make the fish taste bitter — the idea being that the less trauma the fish goes through, the better it will taste. “It’s [an] extremely rare [method],” says Askew. “The only people I’ve seen do it are the Japanese.”
Rather than trying to compete with the major fishmongers, Askew wants to get back to basics, like seasonal quality and customer service. “Last year we were [selling to] 40 restaurants,” he notes. “But then the pandemic hit, and it has allowed us to restructure a little bit, and get back to more fishing.”
Simply Caught Seafood, LLC, Hendersonville. The company sells fresh fish on Saturdays at the farmers’ markets in Hendersonville and Columbus. Their seafood is also sold at the Hendersonville Community Co-op, the Trout Lily Market in Fairview, Whistlestop Market in Brevard, Historic Thompson’s Store in Saluda, and the French Broad Food Co-op and West Village Market in Asheville. Simply Caught catches are on the menu at Shine in Hendersonville and other regional restaurants. They make CSF (Community Supported Fishery) neighborhood deliveries, and home deliveries via Asheville Farm Delivery. For more information, call 828-273-0286, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or go to simplycaughtseafood.com. Check the company’s Facebook page for updates.