When the Factory Creek Fish Company opened, the owners wanted it to be more than just a run-of-the-mill seafood restaurant. They wanted everyone to know the fish, shrimp and oysters they served had a story behind them. And that story could make a difference.
Like dozens of other restaurants in the Lowcountry, Factory Creek Fish Company signed up for the Sustainable Seafood Initiative in South Carolina.
Saying that a particular seafood is sustainable means that it's been harvested in a way that doesn't harm the future of the species, in that it's not overfished or taken without regard to the environment around it.
"We're trying to do the right thing," said owner Mary Winburn. "We want to have fish for the future."
The Lady's Island restaurant is hosting a Sustainable Seafood Dinner on Tuesday with a representative of the initiative on hand to explain exactly where each course comes from and why that's important.
The initiative was started in 2002 as a collaboration among several South Carolina organizations with an interest in promoting a responsible use of seafood. The focus is on restaurants because about 70 percent of the seafood people consume comes from when they eat out.
"Restaurants control so much of what people eat," said Megan Westmeyer, sustainable seafood coordinator at the South Carolina Aquarium.
Restaurants now submit their menus for a detailed review of their seafood. Each species served is traced back to where it came from to determine whether it's harvested with an eye toward sustainability. Many questions get answered: Is the stock overfished? How is the fish harvested -- does harvesting do extensive damage to the other marine habitat? If farmed, are antibiotics or other chemicals used to grow the fish?
The United States has fairly strict standards around its shores compared to some other countries, so restaurants are encouraged to serve local seafood. Buying imported is allowed, but only with proof the supplier employs sustainable seafood practices.
Certain species raise a red flag and are generally banned from menus under the initiative. Orange roughy, Chilean sea bass and shark are largely overfished. Orange roughy, for example, matures later than other fish and spawns in large groups, making it susceptible for overfishing. Some countries manage their populations well, but others don't, and, to make matters worse, the fish is harvested through bottom trawling, where nets are dragged along the ocean floor and can cause extensive damage to the seabed.
If a restaurant passes the review, it gets a stamp of approval from the initiative, with some getting higher ratings for going above and beyond the basic requirements. At first, the initiative was focused on Charleston restaurants but since has expanded around the state, including eight local eateries and one caterer.
The Factory Creek Fish Company is now striving to attain one of the initiative's higher rankings by fine-tuning its menu.
"It doesn't happen overnight," Winburn said. "We want the community to be knowledgeable of the process so they know what they're eating."