The leaders of the local Star of the Sea Foundation, known as the SOS Foundation and food pantry, are enabling out-of-work Keys charter fishermen to catch fish that will feed the hungry in their community.
Charter fishermen aren’t permitted to sell their catch without a state-issued saltwater products license that allows fishermen to catch a commercial amount of fish. But the charter guys can certainly donate their catch — and officials at the local food pantry are putting them to work.
The SOS Foundation has launched St. Peter’s Fleet, a consortium of local charter fishermen who get paid a small amount of money — enough to cover their fuel, bait and tackle costs and pay a mate an hourly wage — to go out fishing and then donate their catch that typically includes dolphin, snapper and grouper.
“Our food pantry clients and 200 seniors under lockdown at Henry Haskins Seniors Housing on Kennedy Drive are enjoying fresh fish twice this week,” wrote SOS executive director Tom Callahan in a Facebook post about the emerging St. Peter’s Fleet.
The project is a partnership between the SOS Foundation and CareerSource, and the initial “test trips” involved Capt. Billy Wickers III of Linda D Sportfishing, which is based at Key West’s Charter Boat Row.
The participating captains and mates receive $16 per hour plus $300 per trip to cover bait, ice and fuel, Callahan said, adding that Fishbusterz fish house on Stock Island will weigh and process the fish for the captains.
“The way it’s set up is we just drop the catch off at Fishbusterz to be weighed,” said Wickers. “Our first few trips, we brought in 300 to 400 pounds of snapper and amberjack, and now we’re getting dolphin and grouper as well.”
Most of the fish is being cooked in the Callahan Community Kitchen behind Key West’s City Hall, and is incorporated into healthy, cooked meals for community members, including senior citizens.
Callahan said he envisions expanding the program to the Middle and Upper Keys, eventually employing about 50 captains and mates.
“We’re not really making money on this, but it lets us get out on the water and lets us help our community,” Wickers said. “This town and our industry have always had each other’s backs and it feels good to be able to help.”
Anyone interested in becoming a part of St. Peter’s Fleet should email Callahan at [email protected].