From Sea To Dinner Table

BY Peter Viele

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.”


Poke Bowl

serves 4


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

serves 4


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.

Flounder Ceviche

serves 4


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.