WILMINGTON — It started with one simple prompt: Come up with a business concept that would thrive in a coastal community.
Landon Hill took his UNCW assignment from Dr. Xaver Neumeyer at Cameron Business School to heart — and beyond.
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Hill, who works in the real estate industry, launched Local Catch last year, after graduating with an entrepreneur and business degree in 2020. The idea for the app, focused on connecting local buyers with freshly caught seafood, formed from first-hand experience; Hill is also a licensed commercial fisherman, familiar with the ins and outs of the business.
While doing research for the app, he talked to restaurateurs and said he was stunned to find how much frozen seafood was being used. So he decided to build an app for anglers to post what’s biting.
As of Valentine’s Day, Hill said Local Catch had roughly 500 combined users and growing. Area restaurants, seafood markets, and even at-home chefs can find the options now with the push of a button.
“The individuals and businesses that sell to the restaurants and individuals have provided a dealer’s license number when signing up for Local Catch,” Hill explained. “Commercial fishermen that only have a commercial fishing license are able to sell but required to only sell to individuals or businesses with a dealers license. This is required by federal law.”
The app’s “In the Cooler” section is for fishers to list what’s fresh and up for grabs, how much is available, costs per pound, payment options and where to go for pickup or delivery.
The same works in reverse: Buyers can post what they’re looking for and catchers can answer the call.
“So if I was wanting to do an oyster steam next weekend, I could go ahead and put a request in,” Hill explained.
The user would select the “cast” button on the app to notify fishers that an order has been requested.
“Comparing it to other apps similar to this — there are not any,” Hill said. “That’s the cool thing about this idea. And the icing on the cake is knowing the commercial fisherman’s name or the boat name and having that sort of connection.”
Blue Tone Media developed the app, and Hill said the local company has been steadfast in making sure the platform remains simple and user-friendly. They have taken into account suggestions offered by restaurateurs, seafood markets and veteran fishermen.
It took a year to launch the app live. One of Hill’s friends and a licensed fisherman, Carl Brubach, has been offering insight during the testing phase.
Brubach — once a commercial fisherman for another company — launched his own business, Brubach Marine, in November. He will use Local Catch to build his clientele.
“I can go out and catch a bunch of fish, but if I don’t necessarily have a connection to a buyer, my only option would be to go through a fish market,” he said. “So I think the app’s really gonna streamline the process and connect you more directly with consumers.”
Brubach will be catching sheepshead cobia, wahoo, and African pompano, as well as filling gaps in supply, catching fish not always available, he said.
“This week I plan to go crabbing for stone crabs,” he said. “They’re kind of like a delicacy crab.”
As temperatures warm, Brubach said lionfish will be added to the “cooler” on Local Catch. He speardives for them.
“So that’s a fish you don’t really see in markets very often,” he said, “because they’re not really a hook-in-line fish. But they’re actually a nuisance and not from the Atlantic.”
Lionfish has become the “poster child” for invasive fish species, according to the NOAA Fisheries. They often eat baby grouper and snapper.
“So they’re actually hurting our fishery by existing,” Burbach said. “It’s really good fish that you can go out and kind of clean up an area and have enough to sell back into the market.”
Burbach described the fish as flaky, not heavily boned, its white meat sweet in flavor. “It’s not a greasy or oily fish,” he said, one he will deliver cleaned and ready to cook.
Hill believes the time is rife for launching Local Catch as the slow-food movement continues to gain steam. It was founded in 1989 as a grassroots maneuver to sustain regional food cultures and traditions, while educating people on how their food choices influence health, economy and the globe.
“Right now, people want to know where their food is coming from,” Hill said. “This helps accomplish that.”
The app is free to download. It went live in May 2022 and within the first month had 100 users. It grew to five times that amount with tweaks and updates made over the last eight months, Hill said.
When someone signs up, they choose which kind of user they are: commercial fisherman, seafood market, restaurant or individual. It’s open to users all along the Atlantic coast from Charleston to Virginia Beach.
Should its popularity rise and the app gains steam, Hill will consider a subscription model.
“But I will not be charging anyone to use Local Cash until they have seen and they accept the value they get from us,” he clarified. “Right now, my focus is on building and making this app most user-friendly it can be.”
Local Catch is now available on the Google Play and Apple stores.
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