We Are Agriculture is a year-long series that will highlight the hard-work done by employees across the Department of Agriculture. John Aydlett, Seafood Marketing Specialist with our Marketing Division, is one of those employees. Stay tuned each Wednesday here on the blog or any of our social media accounts and join us in honoring those who continue to drive our state’s agriculture industry forward each day!
The agriculture industry is all connected, and much like a river meets an ocean, the love and passion for one part of the industry can easily flow into another. John Aydlett, Seafood Marketing Specialist for our Marketing Division, grew up with a love of plants and passion for horticulture. “I grew up in Camden County where I was surrounded by many types of agriculture,” he said, “and I always loved it, but my true passion was in gardening and plants.” That interest and desire to get more involved with the industry drove John to N.C. State University where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Horticulture Science and a minor in Agriculture Business Management in 1993.
John started his career in the N.C. agriculture industry by working for five years at a local garden center landscape design/build firm where he managed and sold a variety of plants and managed a landscape design/build division of the company. In 1998, however, he made the switch from private to public industry and started working for the NCDA&CS as an Agriculture Marketing Specialist working with locally grown watermelons and vegetable growers “I loved working with the watermelon producers in our state because they really are like one big welcoming family,” John said. “I’ve been through the gamut of commodities here at the department, but eleven years ago I started working with N.C. aquaculture and seafood and I’ve stayed ever since.”
Within our state, an important distinction is made between seafood and aquaculture, but John’s job works with both. “Wild-caught seafood is caught in the wild, or in the oceans, sounds, rivers, etc., whereas aquaculture means farm raised fish, shellfish, crustaceans, etc.,” he said. In his role, John is responsible for working with both seafood and aquaculture producers to help them market their products to consumers and efficiently manage their operations in a way that brings in the most profit and satisfies the customer. “I am responsible for promoting the seafood and aquaculture industry of our state in a variety of ways each day, including trade shows, networking with producers, managing the ‘Got To Be NC Seafood’ statewide branding program, distributing marketing materials to grocery stores/seafood retailers and more,” he said.
John works with many organizations and associations across the state to ensure these producers have all that they need to market their products to consumers. “I work with approximately ten unique commodity associations, in addition to various other members of the NCDA&CS Marketing Division, to help our producers gain access to a variety of opportunities and individuals that want to help them succeed in their endeavors,” he said. Some of these associations include N.C. Catch, the N.C. Aquaculture Association, the N.C. Aquaculture Development Conference Board, and the N.C. Fisheries Association.
In fact, John has served on the NC Catch board since the inception of the group, which he thinks is a huge benefit to the wild-caught seafood industry. “I was involved with N.C. Catch from the very beginning and helped with the organization of the group with a team of many talented individuals from all along the coast,” he said. “The original purpose of NC Catch was to create a main point of contact for the other existing local coastal catch groups to apply for grant applications through. Although its mission has changed a lot since that day, N.C. Catch is still the promotional lead for the wild-caught and seafood industry of our state, and I am honored to have been a part of it since the inception.” N.C. Catch also works with a variety of chefs across the state to tout locally raised fish in restaurants, including Chef Ricky Moore, owner of Saltbox Seafood Joint in Durham, Chef Keith Rhodes, owner of Catch in Wilmington and Chef Ashley Christensen, owner of AC Restaurants.
Although overcoming common misconceptions about seafood across the industry can pose a variety of marketing challenges, John wouldn’t trade anything in the world for the pride he feels in helping these producers reach their company goals in our state. “Did you know that only approximately 25% of the fish sold in this state are actually raised locally,” he said. “So, realize that these producers work extremely hard to provide what they can each year for the families of this state and be sure to support them every opportunity that you get.” Another myth that John and his team often have to overcome is that frozen seafood is not as good as fresh seafood. “That is false information,” he said. “When the product is frozen correctly and cooked right, it can still taste fresh and delicious.”
Throughout his 24 years with the department, John has seen a lot change within the department and the industry. The biggest change that he has seen in the aquaculture and seafood industry is the support and desire from consumers for locally caught or raised seafood. “When I first started, we used to ship most of the fish raised in our state to other places, such as New York,” he said, “but the buy local movement has expanded so much over the last several years, that a much larger percentage of seafood raised or caught in our state is sold within our state today, which helps with the statewide economics of the fishing industry.”
When he is not at work, John can be found in his home garden teaching his eleven-year-old daughter how to grow her own plants and produce. “It’s important to pass down the lessons and lifestyle found within our state’s agriculture industry,” he said. “Not only is this a great time to watch her flourish in agriculture but it’s a time that we get to spend together, doing one of the things that I love most in this world.” John also loves to travel with his wife of 25 years and every-once-in-a-while, take the boat out to do a little fishing himself. Join us in thanking John for his hard work promoting the N.C. seafood and aquaculture industries in our state!