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She Harvests Shellfish and Helps Protect Them

This article is an element of our special Women and Leadership report, which highlights women on the forefront of climate, politics and business around the globe.

Six days every week, Ana Shellem gets up at 5:30 am and checks the tide and wind conditions for the day. Then he mentally arranges where on the water he’ll go looking for wild clams, clams, oysters and stone crabs. Come at sunrise, she’s free.

This normally means jumping on her primary work boat, a 14-foot catamaran.

She is at sea for 3 to eight hours, fishing, until she collects exactly as many creatures as 10 restaurant customers have ordered her. He spends the late hours of the day hand-delivering his bounty.

Ms. Shellem, 32, has maintained this schedule for the last six years, Monday through Saturday. As the founder and owner of Shell’em Seafood, a sustainable boutique shellfish company in Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, she is a fisherman, marketer, and businesswoman; delivery driver; and, not coincidentally, a conservator.

In a male-dominated industry, Ms. Shellem’s success is rare, but not exceptional.

Throughout history and around the globe, women have all the time played a task in fishing, harvesting and exploiting creatures taken from the ocean. More recently, women from Rwanda and the Philippines have also taken motion for marine sustainability, acting as reef guardians and resisting overfishing attempts.

US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recorded in 2020 that “women play a key role in sustainable fisheries worldwide” and that their share of business fisheries appears to be increasing in proportion to the entire variety of fishing employees.

Yet, the report says, women’s participation in business fisheries “stays poorly understood and largely unrecognized in various parts of the world.”

Ms. Shellem, a one-man business, turned her stake right into a successful business by selling about $100,000 of fresh shellfish to restaurant customers along the Carolina coast, she said. Some order 600 to 2,000 units every week, each for 70 cents to $1.

“I own my equipment and am the only real worker, so all profits are mine,” she said.

One of her clients is Seabird, a well-liked spot in Wilmington. “We label Ana shellfish on our menu by name, and customers seek them out for his or her unique flavor,” said owner and chef Dean Neff.

Seabird serves mussels in a thick beer broth or as a chilly escabeche with leeks, fennel and chilli. Both dishes are favorites on the menu, said Mr. Neff.

“Her connection to the ocean is obvious and she has a following here because persons are so intrigued by what she does,” he said.

At Poole’s, an upscale restaurant in Raleigh, Mrs. Shellem’s mussels are served in a broth with Dijon mustard, white wine, cream and herbs. And at Raleigh’s sister restaurant, Death & Taxes, oysters are grilled with chili butter and canned chimichurri.

Ashley Christensen, owner of Poole’s and Death & Taxes, said: “Ana’s freshness is amazing. Her shellfish are special because she pulled them out of the mud on the identical day. Waiters love to inform her story and customers like to hearken to her.”

Ms. Shellem got here to her company quite unusually. A former actress and model, she joined the traveling forged of Disney’s The Bear and the Big Blue House on the age of 12. She eventually settled in New York, where she acted in commercials and took up photography. “These were gigs to pay bills, not passions,” she said.

The photo shoot took her to Wrightsville Beach, about six miles east of Wilmington, and it turned out to be a life-changing trip. “I met Jon and we began dating,” she said, referring to her husband, Jon Shell.

Mr. Shellem, a longtime local resident and co-owner of the bar, grew up collecting wild shellfish for his own use and took his future wife on trips to do the identical. “We would sit for hours at sea and then come home and enjoy these divine foods like grilled oysters with melted butter or pizza sprinkled with clams,” Ms Shellem said.

After a decade-long battle with anorexia and bulimia, she said she discovered the pleasure of eating for the primary time and found independence and solitude on the water.

“There was nothing more satisfying than picking seafood to feed yourself, friends and family just hours later,” she said. “I noticed I desired to expand my reach to more people by entering into the fishing business.”

(She noted that the unexpected case of her transformation prolonged to her married name, which she adopted because the name of her company.)

Ms. Shellem founded Shellem Seafood in 2016, shortly after obtaining a business fishing license. She said she was mainly criticized by fishermen who didn’t take her seriously because she was a girl. “Several people have told me that they do not think I’m strong enough to do the job and that I’m wasting my time,” said Ms Shellem.

But she persevered. Now she sneaks out of the boat she and her husband call home and goes out to sea day after day, then spreads her catch on the dock and piles up the catch as each client orders.

In her effort to guard nature and oppose overfishing, Mrs Shell doesn’t collect a single piece above what was ordered. He delivers his catch personally, driving from client to client at the top of the day in his pickup truck.

She said it’s labor, but she will be able to’t get enough of it. “Harvesting is against the law on Sundays in North Carolina,” she noted. “Otherwise, I’d be within the ocean then too. I adore it a lot.

Shellem’s commitment to sustainability caught the eye of Governor Roy Cooper, who in August appointed her commissioner of the North Carolina Department of Marine Fisheries, which promotes responsible and sustainable fishing. The commission includes one other woman who represents the recreational side of the industry.

Shell’em Seafood is able to expand its presence, but Mrs. Shellem has no such ambitions.

“If I start shipping shellfish all over the place, it can sit on the truck for too long,” she said. “It’s not going to be enjoyed correctly, which is as fresh out of the water as possible and that is the rationale I began my business in the primary place.”

Shivani Vora is a contract journalist based in New York who often writes about trends, design, travel and interesting personalities.

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