Fresh Catch

 In Better Built, Coastal Life, OBX Community

Micah Daniels grew up at the Wanchese Fish Company. Not literally, of course, but she certainly logged enough hours that the family business was like a second home.

And while she’s back in her hometown and back in another fish house, she certainly tried to break away. Daniels dove into teaching elementary school for several years. She ended up working at the family restaurant for a few years. And when her husband, Matt Huth, told her they needed to open a fish house of their own in Wanchese, she certainly tried to tell him all the reasons that was such a bad idea.

“Let me help you out – we need anything BUT a fish house,” she recalls saying. “We’re going to work seven days a week. We’re never going to have off. But I am really entrenched in the industry, and I do love fishermen, so…”

manteo fresh catch fish

So there she is on a Sunday morning before church at Fresh Catch Seafood, waiting for a boat to come in. Admittedly, Fresh Catch is usually closed on Sundays, but this was one of those unique situations. It was just Micah, Matt, and his son Finn – no employees pulled in – and together, they packed 3,200 pounds of fish. Micah shoveled all the ice that day, she says, flexing her biceps and laughing.

Daniels is a breath of fresh air for an industry that tends to be male-dominated and married to the “but this is how we’ve always done it” mindset. She loves technology, constantly using her phone and Apple Watch to keep in touch with fishermen and buyers.

She can handle the constantly shifting regulations and online documentation required by various agencies.

Her voice also comes through loud and clear when supporting the fishing industry. Daniels serves on the NC Farm Bureau Agriculture Board and the NC Coastal Federation’s Dare County Advisory Board, offering a mix of her fresh perspective and the decades of experience she gleaned from the family business.

She’s gonna tell you exactly what she thinks. About the industry. About the regulations. About her faith. About the people who fish out of “the creek” and unload at Fresh Catch Seafood.

“I like to promote our people, these guys that are Americans that are working to provide food for other Americans, you know?” Daniels says. “I like that we are a country of hard-working people and that these people are helping contribute and they’re putting food on the table, and while they’re doing that, other people are teaching their kids, working in grocery stores and delivering the mail and all those things that make a country and a community work. There’s people behind this tuna, there’s people behind this shrimp – and they contribute to your community.” But also: “I don’t think it’s fair to make people eat imported seafood because it is gross. It is really gross.”

obx fresh catch flounder

Daniels truly can deliver the freshest of catches to suppliers because the vessels that fish out of Wanchese tend to be smaller and go on shorter runs into the bountiful waters off the OBX. The fishermen haul in their tuna, mahi, swordfish, or shrimp, depending on the season, get them ready for processing and put them on ice on the boat, then quickly get them offloaded at Fresh Catch.

Daniels doesn’t pack unless it’s an all-hands-on-deck kind of day, but she does plenty of other essential odds and ends. She grades catches. She schedules transportation, getting fish from Wanchese to New York, Philadelphia, and Boston markets. She thrills at seeing a sign in a Wegmans Food Markets displaying that items on display are from Wanchese.

fresh catch tuna

Or seeing Freshie Shrimp and Grits from Smith & Sons Seafood in the Harris Teeter freezer section.

“We send him shrimp, and I was like, ‘That could be our shrimp in there!’ I was geeking out over it,” she says of a recent trip to Harris Teeter that definitely included a package of Freshie coming home with her. “It’s really exciting to see. I love that people have access to it and can see where it came from. And I think it’s exciting for (the buyers) too because I believe in our product, and they’re excited to get a really good product. We like people to have good food.”

Managing that supply chain does come at a cost, of course. Daniels says family members chide her for being on her phone all the time. She estimates she has about 30,000 pictures of fish in her phone camera roll (remarkably, she can find the photos she’s looking for in a matter of seconds), and text messages fly in and out all hours of the day and night.

The fishermen pass along texts at 2 or 3 in the morning, letting her know what they caught. She responds and lets her buyers know what they can be expecting. You can’t exactly spring 10,000 pounds of tuna on somebody by surprise, Daniels reasons. She’s never out of reach, even while at the gym.

fresh catch workers

What could happen in that hour she’s working out, her family asks?

“If I’ve got 1,000 pounds of fish in the cooler and it’s a slow market and somebody calls and says, ‘Hey, put it on the truck,’ I want that on the truck, not ‘sorry I missed your call…’” she explains. “This is the problem: Fish don’t know holidays. They don’t know hours. They don’t know sleep. It’s a perishable market.”

As a colleague puts it: “Sell it or smell it.”

Daniels’ tech savvy helps her help the fishermen take care of the endless amounts of paperwork involved in the industry. Logging catches. Updating permits. Keeping registrations updated. Uploading videos to the government agencies recording 24/7 when the fishing equipment is operating. (Did you know cameras capture their every move? That’s just one of the interesting tidbits Daniels has highlighted on the active Fresh Catch Seafood OBX Instagram account.)

Daniels isn’t a fan of how highly regulated the industry has become. However, her days in education taught her to follow the data. In her mind, the data on stock assessments, water quality, and other metrics don’t call for more restrictions on commercial fishermen.

“We have fewer fishermen than there has ever been. I think we’re the easiest sector to take out because we’re the weakest sector,” she says. “So I got hooked up with NC Ag because I’m really passionate, and I’m very vocal. It’s people’s livelihoods, but not just livelihoods. I think it’s a lot of consumers’ access, too. Not everybody owns a Grady White. Not everybody has time to take off every weekend from their

fresh catch mr. finn boat

9 to 5 and go fishing. So I am a firm believer in that it is a public trust resource, and public trust means it is yours. It is mine. If you want to fish on the weekend, yes, but also if you want to sustainably commercially fish to provide for consumers, it belongs to all of us. There is enough resource for everyone.”

Stress about regulations. Stress over the price of diesel fuel. Stress over labor and parts shortages. Stress about the loss of the Mr. Finn, Huth’s best pelagic longline boat before it was nearly destroyed in an overnight fire in January and is currently being resurrected at Bayliss Boatworks – there’s plenty for Daniels to worry about.

obx fresh catch finn and matt
Finn and Matt

That, however, is where her faith comes in, another piece of the puzzle for this dynamic personality. The chapter and verse of important Bible passages are written on the beams of the Fresh Catch processing room.

A current favorite is Joshua 1:9. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

My faith is really important to me because I’m gonna tell you, I would not have made it. I know why these people smoke cigarettes and drink coffee all day because it will tear your nerves up

Daniels says with a laugh. “I just have to say, ‘Lord, you’re gonna take care of it. You’re gonna sell these fish. I’m not even gonna worry because you said not to worry.’ But I’m still really working on that ‘not worrying’ thing.”

From the rocky early days when just she and Huth ran Fresh Catch to today’s much smoother operation with “an amazing team of people,” Daniels certainly seems at home now, totally in her element like all those years of her childhood – except with an iPhone and Apple Watch now in tow to help get the job done and help her business and others in “the creek” keep up with the changing times.

“We cannot run our business without fish, and they can’t run their business without selling fish,” she says. “They provide people with food, and our fishermen in this creek are passionate about what they do. I love advocating and selling products for people who take care of their products – and they do care.”

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