Sea Grant’s seafood awareness campaign earns top honor

North Carolina Sea Grant received national recognition for its seafood consumer awareness efforts.

Sea Grant announced Friday that the state-federal partnership was awarded a national Grand Award from the 2021 APEX Awards for Excellence in the Campaigns, Programs & Plans for Public Service category. The annual competition is for corporate and nonprofit publishers, editors, writers and designers who create print, website, electronic and social media.

The state’s seafood industry immediately took a hit in March 2020 when COVID-19 restrictions were put in place, leading to restaurants reducing operations or closing, and trips to grocery stores and other retail outlets were limited.

North Carolina Sea Grant reacted by starting a public service campaign highlighting additional avenues for consumers to purchase seafood, provided strategies and tips to consumers for seafood preparation and preserving freshness, and otherwise promoted North Carolina’s seafood products when the pandemic jeopardized the state’s seafood industry.

The APEX judges said that Sea Grant’s work is a “glowing example” of the creativity in the materials provided mostly online during COVID-19 restrictions:

“The seafood industry is critical to the economy of North Carolina, and the steps taken to ensure its survival were nothing short of mouth-watering! Resources like ‘How to Freeze NC Seafood,’ the ‘Mariner’s Menu’ and numerous articles on seafood preparation and seafood availability by species and season along with numerous recipes kept the observer’s taste buds very active! Combine that with a dedicated portal to resources for seafood consumers, marine science educators, and seafood industry professionals, and you have a complete campaign to protect the viability of this important segment of the state’s economy.”

The award recognizes seafood technology and marketing specialist Barry Nash, who also chairs NC Local Food Council, Vanda Lewis, who curates the Mariner’s Menu blog, and Katie Mosher, communications director who worked with media and partners to share the information with wide audiences.

Nash added that the recognition extends to others in the organization, including Dave Shaw, editor of Coastwatch magazine and for many online elements, and Julie Leibach, who heads up social media, is a science editor and digital content specialist.

“Our goals were to provide the state’s seafood industry with vital support during a dire economic period, and to help consumers prepare nutritious and flavorful NC seafood at home,” Nash explained in a release.

The information was provided through many formats such as Coastwatch magazine in print and online, with an audience of 200,000 annually; blogs such as the Mariner’s Menu, with 71,000 readers each year; news releases picked up by the media and national partners such as NOAA Fisheries; posters; and information on specific topics, like the growing role of cultured shellfish.

“Our team came together to identify information needs for the public during COVID,” Mosher said. “Safe, local seafood was a key message that we could share — and offer opportunities for varied audiences to learn about NC species and cooking techniques.” 

The Carteret County News-Times featured the Mariner’s Menu in the 2021 printed calendar distributed to subscribers and widely across the central coastal region. 

Hayden Stephens, a high school intern in the spring of last year, shifted to remote work and helped develop 13 “Mariner’s Menu” posters that were published in newspaper food sections around the state. 

North Carolina Sea Grant’s Seafood Availability Posters were updated in fall 2020, highlighting species and their availability by month and by region of the North Carolina coast. “A Primer on North Carolina’s Seafood” was introduced last year with information on North Carolina fisheries, consumer safety and health tips, strategies for seafood preparation, cultural resources, and more.

Throughout the pandemic, North Carolina Sea Grant social media feeds focused on seafood consumer awareness campaign messages and themes, from within the program, as well as from local, state, and national partners. 

“Just one example is the #FishyFriday hashtag that was used across the Sea Grant network,” Mosher added.

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