Galveston was just waking up on the Tuesday morning we set sail. The air, thick with unrelenting heat and humidity, was eerily silent, save for our own slow, heavy footsteps shuffling toward Katie’s Seafood Market, a family-owned dockside fish and seafood shop that Buddy Guindon, his wife Katie and his brother Kenny opened in 1998 on Pier 19, on the banks of the Galveston Channel. The concrete floors, slippery with salt-scented seawater, stretched toward the back of the shop, and we weaved our way around the iced fish displays — sand trout, grouper, rocktile, filets of salmon, mahi-mahi, redfish, live crabs and red snapper – toward the commercial fishing boats that would take us some forty miles offshore into fifty-feet-deep federal waters flush with our prey: red snapper.
Our fishing expedition, which was hosted by Gulf Wild, a nonprofit program of the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders’ Alliance that’s doing its part to cease fraudulent fishing practices, included five Colorado chefs — Brandon Foster (Vesta Dipping Grill, Denver); Brian Laird (Sarto’s, Denver); Justin Brunson (Old Major, Denver); Lou Ortiz (Los Chingones, Denver); and Beau Black (Ken and Sue’s, Durango) — and we all wanted Buddy, a founding member of Gulf Wild, to be our fishing guide. “I reckon I’ve caught more red snapper than any fisherman in the Gulf, and I think you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone that disagrees,” Buddy tells us. Buddy, it turns out, is more than a veteran fisherman; he’s a local celebrity.
The rotund, white-bearded fisherman, who has an easy smile and a wicked laugh, spent his youth as a lake fisherman in Minnesota. In 1979, after a stint with the U.S. Marine Corps, he moved to Galveston to work at the Exxon station his father owned. And on his days off, he’d fish. “I was addicted to fishing – badly addicted,” remembers Buddy, who bought his first fishing boat — a skiff — in 1980. Flounder was his casualty, and he hauled the fish into the back of his pickup truck and sold it, he admits, “to anyone who wanted to buy it.”
And it didn’t matter whether the seas were calm or violent, the waves two feet or ten. Buddy isn’t the kind of fisherman who’s deterred by the rumble and tumble of unrestrained waves, which was apparent on our own dive into hotheaded waters that rocked our boat for a good six hours straight. We had been advised to stomach Dramamine, and we followed orders, but suffice it to say that some us supplied the ocean with a few extra nutrients that day. The beanbags that were placed in our boats became our safety nets. Buddy, however, never sat down, never flinched. He’s a fisherman, through and through. “The worse Mother Nature behaves, the more I like it,” he claims.
In 1983, after several successful years fishing for flounder, Buddy purchased another boat – a 23-foot seacraft — that would allow him to go fishing offshore, specifically for snapper and amberjack. Then, in 1986, he bought a 31-foot Bertram with twin-diesel engines. “That took me to the next level of commercial fishing,” says Buddy, adding that when he purchased the boat, he embarked on a journey to find mates to join him. “I still owned a bar, so I’d grab someone – anyone from the bar – who wanted to go fishing with me,” he recalls.
Everyone wants to go fishing with Buddy. His sense of humor is infectious, and you won’t find his instructional tutorials on how to reel in red snapper in any textbook. When Buddy talks, people listen. They follow his lead. And that, no doubt, explains why our crew of seven, which also included Scott Hickman, our captain for the day, and Dylan Atkins, our amazing deckhand, caught nearly 100 pounds of red snapper, not to mention a kingfish. It was a terrific day of line-caught fishing – and there were plenty of fish fighting to eat our bait.
And all of the fish we caught were accounted for in more ways than one. In 2010, Gulf Wild made it its mission to improve the seafood and fishery industry one fish at a time by implementing a branding program to meet its stringent standards outlined in its conservation covenants. “There used to be a lot of bad fishing practices,” admits Buddy. “Fishermen would catch fish that were the wrong size and then throw them back in the ocean, hence killing them, and we wanted to change that; we didn’t want people wasting our resources, so we started a tagging program in 2010 that prohibited fishermen from throwing a fish away that didn’t meet their value,” explains Buddy, noting that fish that weigh between one and four pounds are the most valuable. “It’s all about catching what you catch, keeping it all no matter the size, and maintaining the stock of fish in the Gulf of Mexico,” says Buddy.
To that end, members of Gulf Wild — forty members and growing — track the precise location of every fish they catch. The fish are placed in designated bins in the ice hole on the boat, and the captain diligently notes the location of his catch; the fish are then tagged at the dock. It’s a way, notes Buddy, to give consumers – those who buy fish at markets and eat it in restaurants – the peace of mind of knowing that Gulf Wild fishermen are 100 percent accountable for their catch. “It’s a sustainable, traceable fishing program that eliminates fraud,” says Buddy, who credits Seattle Fish with “being one of the first companies to believe in the Gulf Wild tagging program.”
“Seattle Fish just gets it,” stresses Buddy. “We’ve sold fish on and off to them for years, and they’re a fantastic, family-run business that cares about their employees, their customers and fishing sustainability – and they care, too, about preserving the Gulf of Mexico.”
That night, after our successful fishing trip, we all gathered in the beachside clubhouse kitchen of an RV park to cook what we’d caught that day. The chefs made gazpacho and ceviche, a red snapper stir-fry and deep-fried snapper and kingfish. Bellies full, we all reminisced about our fishing outing, and the consensus was unanimous: We’d done well. Actually, we’d done very well. Even Buddy agreed, and his endorsement, especially to all of us sea fishing novices, was the prize catch of the day.