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Boat to table

Sea Eagle Market keeps local eaters awash in fresh fish and seafood

Story by Lisa Allen  +  Photography by Mike Ritterbeck

LOCAL SINCE 1992 Craig Reaves is the owner of Sea Eagle Market, a family owned and operated retail and wholesale market in Beaufort. The Reaves family owns three shrimp trawlers, five oyster boats and buys what they don’t catch themselves from local docks.

If you’ve recently tucked into a feast of red snapper or shrimp and grits — locally caught, mind you — at Marker 244 in Port Royal or Charlie’s on Hilton Head Island, or FARM in Bluffton, chances are Sea Eagle Market in Beaufort had something to do with it.

Seeping into the third generation on the Reaves side, many more on his mother’s side, Craig Reaves has been catching, selling and cooking shrimp and seafood all his life.

“My dad started in the shrimping industry as a teenager and taught me how to run a shrimp boat when I was 15 years old. My dad shrimped in the Beaufort area back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, working out of Bubba Von Harten’s dock on Factory Creek on Lady’s Island,” Reaves said. “On my mom’s side, the Fulfords have been net fishing for generations.”

Both raised in Holden Beach, North Carolina, Craig and Jana Reaves moved to Beaufort County in 1992 with his family to run the former Lighthouse Restaurant on Harbor Island. In 1993 Craig and Jana began their wholesale seafood business, CJ Seafood. In 2007 they bought Sea Eagle Market and have been expanding ever since.

Sea Eagle splits its business between selling to restaurants and seafood markets from Savannah to Myrtle Beach and its own two retail markets, Sea Eagle Market and CJ Seafood Express, and a robust catering business.

Craig and Jana Reaves’ eldest daughter, Melena, works in the office and coordinates the catering side of Sea Eagle. Their son, CJ, and his wife, Kim, manage Sea Eagle Market @ Village Creek on St. Helena Island, where shellfish are processed and shrimp boats offload (including one owned and operated by Craig’s brother, Cameron).

“Working the waterfront is what sets us apart. We’re harvesters of shrimp, oysters and crabs,” Craig said. “Uber-local is what our local fishermen catch. Shrimp, clams, oysters, crabs, crawfish, catfish, whiting, herring. These are caught in the Beaufort County-Lowcountry region.”

Danny Cardenas of Sea Eagle Market shows the right way to fillet a fish, cutting away from himself with a very sharp knife.

Sea Eagle also is keyed into a network of fishermen all along the East Coast. That’s why they can get fresh-off-the-boat grouper, flounder, snapper, tile, tuna; well, if it swims in the Atlantic (and it’s legal to catch), they can get it.

Over the years fishing and shrimping have gotten more precise, reducing the amount of “bycatch” caught in their nets, Reaves said. TEDs and BYRDs (turtle excluder and bycatch reduction devices) let larger fin-fish escape, leaving primarily the targeted shrimp.

“We worked with a film crew this past fall on an educational documentary that shows how dolphins have figured out those devices. The dolphins open the flaps and stick their heads in to feast on the fish and shrimp coming into the net. It’s like a buffet for them.”

In addition to fresh seafood, Sea Eagle Market also offers fantastic flavored hot sauces such as Vidalia Onion & Carolina Peach.

Like dolphins, humans like fresh fish too. Now, you know where it comes from.

“People are more attentive about the food they buy and where it comes from,” Reaves said. “Good local chefs think that where the seafood comes from is as important as the lettuce.”

“Fresh and local is our theme,” Reaves said. “In the 1980s my mom and dad came up with the slogan, ‘From our boats to your table,’ and we try to fulfill that as best we can by providing our customers with the freshest local seafood possible.”

Where to get local fish

• Bradley Seafood Market, St. Helena Island

• Barnacle Bill’s Fresh Seafood, HHI

• Benny Hudson Seafood, HHI

• Bluffton Oyster Factory, Bluffton

• CJ’s Seafood Express, Port Royal

• Gay Fish Market, St. Helena Island

• Highway Twentyone Seafood, Beaufort

•Hudson’s Seafood House on the Docks, HHI

• Lemon Island Seafood, Lemon Island

• Mainline Market, St. Helena Island

• Ocean to Fork, Lady’s Island

• Piggly Wiggly, Hilton Head Island

• Russo’s Fresh Seafood, Bluffton

• Sea Eagle Market, Beaufort

• South End Seafood, HHI

•Spanish Wells Seafood & Produce, HHI