If he had his way, Jason DeLaCruz, 46, would spend more time spearfishing at his favorite area — the Florida Middle Grounds, about 100 miles offshore, with its reefs filled with grouper, hogfish and snapper. Instead, on most days, you can find him at Wild Seafood Co., a full-service fish house at John's Pass that he and his wife, Vicky, own.
That's where we caught up with him on a recent Monday, as he monitored the unloading of one of his fishing boats, the Miss Ruby. DeLaCruz, a Pinellas County native, also serves as executive director of Gulf Wild, a nonprofit organization focused on sustainable seafood, and as vice president of the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders' Alliance, an organization designed to protect the region's fishing communities.
DeLaCruz recently was honored as a White House Champion of Change, and along with 11 fellow honorees from around the country, he traveled to Washington to participate in roundtable discussions with government officials and members of the seafood industry on sustainable seafood management and strengthening the nation's fisheries.
What did Miss Ruby bring in on this trip?
Here's what we got on this trip: 5,000 pounds of grouper, 400 pounds of red snapper, 300 pounds of gag grouper and 400 pounds of scamp grouper.
The Champions of Change panels were billed as discussions promoting stronger U.S. fisheries. In light of pollution caused by recent storms that we've seen here in our local waters are the fish in the Gulf of Mexico safe to eat?
Absolutely. Our waters are in good shape. Plus, for us, our fishing is done so far offshore. It's literally the distance between (Pinellas County) to Disney World.
What exactly is sustainable fishing?
We are pulling out a volume of fish and leaving in enough so the fish can replenish every year. It is a stock that is not overfished. ... We can do this because of our tagging, which came about when we, a group of fishermen, believed customers would be interested in proof that what they were getting was in truth a domestic fish. So we tag each fish we catch with a number, and when the customer buys the fish, they can go into the computer, see where the fish was caught, even the name of the captain. Then on the other side, when it comes to the fishery, keeping track with tags has also helped keep track of what type of fish are (in what location).
With the term sustainability, there's an impression that you're an environmentalist, but with your zeal for spear fishing, I think of hunting, and that is seen by many as far away from environmentalism. So are you an environmentalist?
There are many people who say I am, but the negative response you'll get are from individual recreational fishermen who say I am a paid environmentalist. What happens is my stance on the fishery winds up with us and the environmental community on the same side, so some people assume we are getting paid for it.
When you were a child, did you want to be Jacques Cousteau or Ernest Hemingway?
I'd say Jacques Cousteau. It's that question, did I ponder or did I do. I did all day long. I still love to, especially spear fishing. It gets in your blood. ... When you go out there (the Middle Grounds), you're diving ridges, 20, 30, 40 feet high. It's an incredible geographic structure. You can't see it anywhere else. Spear fishing just gets in your blood.
Contact Piper Castillo at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @Florida_PBJC.