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Is Gulf Seafood deal close?

The ‘Gulf Seafood’ property on Stock Island, proposed for public purchase as dedicated working waterfront for commercial fishers. It now includes recently built seafood house in addition to dock space.
The ‘Gulf Seafood’ property on Stock Island, proposed for public purchase as dedicated working waterfront for commercial fishers. It now includes recently built seafood house in addition to dock space.

What was once the Gulf Seafood fish house on Stock Island may become Gulf Seafood again in the near future.

“We think it’s going to happen, that it will be preserved in perpetuity for commercial fishing,” said lobster fisherman Simon Stafford. “That’s the real goal. It would be something unique to the Lower Keys.”

Monroe County staffers have been working with the Florida Communities Trust to acquire the eight-acre property at 6011 Peninsular Ave. for several years. If the purchase goes through, the concept is to keep the property dedicated as a publicly owned “working waterfront” with a focus on commercial fishing.

“We can say it’s moving forward in a positive way,” Lisa Tennyson, county director of legislative affairs and grants acquisition, said. “We can’t say much beyond that.”

County commissioners and involved staffers last summer signed a legal agreement with the state to “maintain confidentiality of all appraisals and any other reports relating to value, offers and counter-offers...”

At least two appraisals reportedly have been completed. Florida law exempts the Florida Communities Trust, an arm of the state Department of Environmental Protection, from the Sunshine Law for the purchase of public lands. County commissioners may unveil those results later this summer.

Monroe County already has agreed in principle to fund up to $5 million of the purchase, with the Communities Trust committing up to $2.3 million.

Currently, the former Gulf Seafood, recently operating as Fisherman’s Key Seafood, apparently is in receivership with a mortgage holder.

The Monroe County Property Appraiser’s Office has a dozen parcels at the site listed under current owner Up Development Key West Holdings, a corporation now based in Franklin, Tenn., with a Tallahassee attorney serving as the registered agent. Its overall current assessment for tax purposes is slightly over a combined $6.44 million.

The property has a Mixed Use Commercial zoning, which means it potentially could be redeveloped into an upscale marina or resort.

Stock Island, once a center of commercial-fishing activity, has lost several fish houses to redevelopment, prompting the state and county interest in preserving working waterfront. The Gulf Seafood property may be able to accommodate from 20 to 25 commercial-fishing boats and thousands of lobster traps, a management plan says.

A core group of a half-dozen Lower Keys fishermen are working to establish a nonprofit cooperative, “Gulf Seafood in the Florida Keys” in a bid to manage the facility, Stafford said.

“We’re putting together a business plan to show the county commission that we can manage it, and hopefully make enough to money to fix a lot of things there that need work,” Stafford said. “We want a chance at autonomy, basically. The last thing we want is another fish-house operator moving in.”

As proposed, commercial fishing boats at the property would pay rent and be able to sell their harvest wherever they choose. A traditional seafood house operation may provide free docking to boats but require that in return, the fishers sell only to the host business.

Peter Bacle, owner of the Stock Island Lobster Co., the largest continually operated seafood house in the Lower Keys, told commissioners in May told commissioners the draft management plan for Gulf Seafood “has zero chance of being successful.”

Stafford said, “I’ve worked out of fish houses for a long time, and it’s not always a cooperative feeling between the fishing families and the fish house. We hope we to have the chance to try a new model.”

Kevin Wadlow: 305-440-3206

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