As Jamie Hummel’s markets began shutting down, the Hampton Bays fisherman was genuinely worried what would happen when all avenues to sell his product officially closed.
“Everyone is laid off right now,” he said. “With what we do, there’s no backup for us.”
Southampton Town Trustee Scott Horowitz saw a Facebook post by his childhood friend and knew he needed to jump into action.
“We work hard as Trustees to ensure the shellfish stock and our water quality is the best we can get it so we can enjoy these resources,” Horowitz said. “At a time like this, in a crisis, to not be able to utilize that, it’s unacceptable. So I started making phone calls. We can keep these guys working, provide sustenance to the people, and try and keep things running.”
He connected Hummel with Captain Peter Haskell, owner of Haskell’s Seafood in East Quogue, who consulted with other baymen, and Assemblyman Fred Thiele, to create a delivery service. Through Haskell’s Seafood, which purchases local product from local fishermen and clammers, a Southampton Town resident can order hard clams, steamers, oysters, scallops, squid, fluke, porgie, and whiting — even asking for a particular preparation — via phone or email, and have the product dropped off at his or her front door. There’s even the option to pay with a credit card prior to delivery, minimizing person-to-person contact.
“It’s interesting at this point in time to see this pressure on the food chain, how it’s being disrupted even from a distribution standpoint,” Haskell said. “These things always boil down to logistics. We have all these tools at our disposal.”
“How can you ignore what we have here when the community is in need?” the captain said. “In times of need when communities come together on a local level it exercises your ability for resilience, allows us to be self-sufficient in ways that make us feel good. What’s happening is taxing on people, it’s stressful, and it’s hard to get by not thinking about it all the time.”
Thiele praised Haskell and Horowitz for their creativity and reassurance. The assemblyman said he also received a letter from Southampton Town Councilwoman Julie Lofstad, whose husband is in the commercial fishing industry, concerned about the impact COVID-19 is having on local business. Once things were in place for the new distribution channel, Thiele released a Facebook post to let his constituents know.
“What I have as an elected official is a megaphone,” Thiele said. “I’m trying to help get the word out and let people know about it. Peter Haskell is one of the leading entrepreneurs as far as the seafood industry goes. He has been very innovated and very creative. At this time, we feel that there is a call to action to adapt, access, and benefit from our vibrant local resources. State and federal funding is great, but we also have to be locally self-reliant when addressing these kinds of situations.”
Thiele, Haskell, and others, like Hummel, are hoping this new system is supported.
“I have one day of work this week and then I’ve got nothing,” Hummel said. “I just hope that people embrace this and keep us going. It takes a village. This affects a lot of people. It affects Pete, the truck driver — there’s a whole chain of people that this is going to help. People don’t realize in a situation like this how much we can help each other.”
Hampton Bays bayman Mike DePerte agrees. What makes this operation special besides the local aspect is delivering a product that people can trust. Haskell’s Seafood is already regularly inspected by the state Department of Environmental Conservation and Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points — a management system in which food safety is addressed through the analysis and control of biological, chemical, and physical hazards from raw material production, procurement and handling, to manufacturing, distribution, and consumption of the finished product.
“My brother and I are on the boat, licensed by New York following all protocol, we deliver the product to Haskell’s, and it’s on its way,” DePerte said. “You also know it’s fresh because it didn’t travel too far.”
DePerte said this is already historically hard time for baymen — February through early April, made even harder this year by the drop in Peconic Bay scallop populations — so the closing of local restaurants has only made it more taxing on those in his industry trying to stay afloat.
“Buyers were still taking stuff, there were restaurant deliveries — but that’s totally out the window now,” he said. “This is a very simple operation, and it could help us out along the way. What’s great about Pete is he and his business are all about local, and he’s a good guy who understands that while yes, this is a business opportunity for him, I know he’s genuinely more concerned about this being a good service to the community.”
Haskell also already has the appropriate licenses, refrigeration, and trucks, so changing the distribution channel was a simple and obvious move to make.
“We got the logistics all worked out,” Horowitz said. “I told them I’d even volunteer my own time to make these deliveries myself. Whatever I can do, I’ll certainly do.”
Over the weekend Haskell said business owners and government officials alike were anticipating these more stringent precautionary measures, and with the limited availability of groceries and some markets being tapped, on top of the influx of people taking refuge at their summer homes, the system was overwhelmed. It was quick to see his thoughts aligned with those he has had the ability to collaborate with.
“These efforts are also intended to bring some optimism to the community,” Haskell said. “These are all things that we have around us and we can sustain during this time.
We’re redirecting our efforts and focusing on the people who need help most.”
Residents can call Haskell’s Seafood at 631-610-4081 or email [email protected] between 11 AM and 6 PM Monday through Friday to place an order and schedule a delivery. The website is www.haskellsseasfood.com.
Haskell has chosen not to charge extra for this service.