There's something idyllic, romantic even, about the simplicity of walking off the beach, entering the waves with only a spear, mask and flippers, and returning with a meal for your family or community. It's quintessential coastal living that spans generations and continents and harkens back to early pioneers living off the ocean's bounty. Fishing has always been an integral pastime and livelihood for Wrightsville Beach, but in the past 10 years, spearfishing has become more popular than ever.
World-renowned photographer, UNCW marine biology master's graduate and avid spearfisher DJ Struntz says, "The conservation issue is really important to me. I only try to take what I'm going to eat. Selectively choosing dinner is a part of that. Just because a fish is big, doesn't make it necessarily healthy -- heavy metals work their way up the food chain to the top predators and that bioaccumulation concentrates those contaminates, like tuna for example. Eating faster-growing fish is a much better alternative, health-wise."
Bringing home dinner straight out of the ocean can be an even more significant benefit in tangibly providing for one's family, while also giving the next generation a comprehension of the source of their meals.
Struntz continues, "My daughter gets to see and touch the whole fish when I bring it home. It's an introduction to her to understand where her food comes from and gives her a much deeper appreciation for ... food and its significance."
In the early fall months as clear, cooler waters usher in fresh schools of fish between the Wrightsville jetties and off sunken historic ships, deepwater ledges and reefs, people from all walks of life are discovering the merits of a more immersive way of hunting their aquatic prey.
From sheepshead, flounder, cobia and hogfish to gag grouper, drum, Spanish mackerel, bonito and African pompano, a vast array of fish can be found anywhere from just off the beach, under a dock or going offshore at Frying Pan Tower.
When harvesting fish to prepare for a meal, Evolve Freediving owner Ren Chapman says, "When we shoot a fish, that's when the actual preparation of the meal begins. We dispatch it, gill it and gut it, right then and there before we even take it onto the boat. I don't throw my fish on the dock; I take care of my fish. I think it's important. You respect the animal. Muscle tissue bruises and decreases the value of the meal when you don't respect it."
Chapman also offers advice to cleaning and cutting the fish, "If you want a good quality fish, don't wash it with fresh water. Every time a knife goes into the skin, you're introducing new bacteria, so I wipe the blade each time I cut. And, if you want to keep the fish for longer, then the best way is to freeze the fish whole."
2 filets little tunny (also known as bonito) or tuna, cut into 1-inch cubes
1/4 cup sweet Vidalia onions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup scallions, chopped
1/2 cup soy sauce
1 Tbsp sesame oil
2 Tbsp mirin or rice wine vinegar
1 Tbsp yuzu or lemon juice
1 Tbsp sesame seeds
1/2 tsp sriracha
2 cups short grain or jasmine rice
1/2 cup edamame, cooked and shelled
1 avocado, sliced
1 cup pineapple, cubed
1 radish, thinly sliced
Pat filet dry, cut into 1-inch cubes. Add to medium-sized metal bowl and toss with onions, scallions, soy sauce, sesame oil, sesame seeds, yuzu, mirin and sriracha. Cover and let rest in refrigerator for 30 minutes. Serve over cooked, warm rice. Garnish with sliced radish, sliced avocado, cubed pineapple and edamame.
Grilled Fish Tacos
1 lb. sheepshead, grouper or hogfish, cut into 3-inch long by 1-inch strips
1/2 cup sunflower seed oil or coconut oil
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp chipotle or ancho chili powder
1/4 cup lime juice
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
1 cup red cabbage, shredded
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 habanero or jalapeno chili, eeded and finely diced
1/2 cup sharp white cheddar, shredded
1 package small tortillas (5-inch)
1 lime, cut into wedges
Preheat charcoal grill to medium-high. Combine oil, cumin, paprika, chipotle, kosher salt, half of the amount of cilantro, lime juice and habanero and coat the fish with marinade. Let fish rest while grill heats. In a bowl, combine shredded cabbage with remaining cilantro and sea salt and squeeze one wedge of lime into mixture. Grill the fish for 3 minutes and flip until desired doneness is achieved. Grill the tortillas for 10 seconds on each side. Garnish with cheddar, cabbage and cilantro mixture, lime wedges and your favorite hot sauce or salsa.
2 (4-ounce) flounder fillets, skinned (or red snapper when in season)
1 Tbsp kosher salt
1/4 cup shallots, finely chopped
1/4 red onion, sliced thinly
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
1/2 cup corn kernels
1/2 cup cherry or sun gold tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup heart of palm, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
2 Tbsp high quality olive oil
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 small habanero chili, seeded and finely diced
1/2 cup cilantro, rinsed and chopped
1/2 cup scallions
Slice the flounder pieces into 1-inch long by 1/8-inch thick strips and place in a bowl filled with ice. Add 1 tablespoon kosher salt, stir and allow to rest for 10 to 15 minutes. Combine the rest of ingredients in a large bowl, mix gently. Rinse the flounder strips, pat dry and add to rest of ingredients in the bowl. Cover and refrigerate. Allow mixture to marinate for two hours. Pull out of the refrigerator 30 minutes before service to allow the ceviche to get to room temperature. Garnish with cilantro sprig and lime wedge.