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Trucking Fish to the Mountains

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Trucking Fish to the Mountains
Photos by Charlie Counts and Christina Nifong

It’s 303 miles from the mountains of Salem, Va., to the dock at Topsail Island, N.C. Charlie Counts knows this because he makes the trip, there and back, every Wednesday, waking before even summer’s early light and arriving home with five oversized coolers, full of fish, by supper time.

This is Charlie’s job—driving. And selecting and buying and packing. Then Tweeting and Facebooking, delivering to restaurants and selling at farmers markets until his seafood is gone. In the four years he’s done this, he’s developed a web of relationships with fishermen, chefs and local food lovers that have allowed his niche business to thrive.

Photos by Charlie Counts and Christina Nifong
Photos by Charlie Counts and Christina Nifong

“I always say if I do better this year than last year, I’ll do it again next year.” The freckles on Charlie’s 26-year-old cheeks bunch together when he grins. “And so far, I’ve done better this year.”

Good eaters of Southwest Virginia are relieved. He is our only straight shot to sushi-grade tuna, wild-caught shrimp, jumbo and lump crab. Without him, there would still be river-caught trout, sustainably farmed striped bass and oysters from the Chesapeake Bay. But not these gems of the sea, not so directly.

Charlie’s work is featured in farm-to-fork bastions like Roanoke’s The River and Rail restaurant and Meadowview’s The Harvest Table (owned by best-selling writer Barbara Kingsolver’s husband and co-author Steven Hopp). His fish is the star of many locavore home tables, too. The butter-and-garlic smeared, cast-iron cooked vermillion snapper I ate last week was melt-in-my-mouth pleasing.

With summer’s end on the horizon, Charlie’s weekly fish run will soon be hibernating till spring. We’re going to miss you, Charlie. You and your Big Eye Tuna.