A 39,000-square-foot seafood-packing center under construction on the Eastern Shore is expected to give commercial fishermen more control over sales of their catch.
The $5.5 million facility in Melfa, which is scheduled for completion next year, will provide a blast freezer, cold storage space and offices for buyers and brokers. The center, to be called the Robert S. Bloxom Eastern Shore Agricultural Complex, also will house a new regional office for the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
The packing center “will have a tremendous impact on the region,” says Jeff Davis, president of the Eastern Shore of Virginia Chamber of Commerce.
When seafood supply is high during peak months, fishermen and crabbers have to sell at market lows or travel to the Tidewater region or Maryland for freezing services.
With the new facility, fishermen can preserve and store their catch to be sold when market prices improve. They also will able to sell to national and international markets. “It basically changes their business model,” Davis says.
Under U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines, blast-frozen fish still qualifies for “fresh” status.
The packing center will be next door to the Eastern Shore Farmers Market, giving fishermen an additional choice. After unloading at onsite docks, they can sell their catch at the market.
Currently, the fourth leading producer of marine products in the nation (behind Alaska, Louisiana and Washington state), Virginia’s seafood industry generates more than $500 million of economic activity annually and employs 11,000 full-time and part-time workers.
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