Work With Me: Following Fish from the Sea to the Table

Paul Godbout is a "walking, talking encyclopedia of fish."

Nov. 9, 2010 — -- Charleston, S.C., is a beautiful port city, a colorful landmark in American history that claims more than two centuries of life, commerce and culture. The city is known for its stunning architecture and pretty cobblestone streets.

Charleston, however, has also seen its share of strife and struggle, enduring the very first shots of the Civil War, the Great Depression and Hurricane Hugo in 1989. Today, Charleston and its residents struggle along with the rest of the U.S., trying to get through the economic recession.

But just north of town, across the bridge, things are looking up. Hidden away in a dormant industrial area, something exciting is happening … and someone is hard at work.

Paul Godbout is the sales manager of the wholesale fish company Stella Maris Seafood, and he wrote a submission essay for "Good Morning America's" "Work With Me" series about why we should come see him and his fellow fish wholesalers at work.

"We are just a group of local guys trying to make ends meet in a tough economy, and we seem to be succeeding!" Godbout, 44, wrote. (CLICK HERE to read his full submission essay)

Stella Maris is Latin for "star of the sea," and according to his boss, those words could also be used to describe Godbout.

"Paul is a great catch, not to play on words," Tony Blanchard, the president and founder of Stella Maris said. "And I knew right away -- that's the guy we needed. And he's so excitable, so passionate, loves his job. He knows fish inside and out."

Godbout, a married father of three, says he doesn't consider his job to be work at all.

"I jump out of bed and come to work," he said. "This is a blast."

Amazingly, Stella Maris opened two years ago as the recession was taking its deepest dive on the frontline of the fish business. The company has only eight employees working in a small but organized space. They bought every piece of equipment secondhand, run a tight ship and brought Godbout, a former Marine, police officer and lifetime fishing fanatic, onboard.

His mother remembers his love of fish started with storybooks when he was a toddler.

"He'd always go for the fish first," Kathleen Godbout said. "He just really, really took to fishing."

The Fish Makes the Dish

Fishing has been a lifelong passion for Godbout and his own children, and at Stella Maris he's hands on with every part of the operation. We could feel his enthusiasm as he put us to work packing up fish, making a delivery with him, and taking phone orders.

Handling large, heavy fish can be quite a workout, and it isn't easy on a manicure, but it was enlightening to see how fish goes from the water to the dinner table.

Nationally, seafood is a $100 billion dollar industry with 1.5 million workers like Godbout.

"My friends say I'm a walking, talking encyclopedia of fish," he said.

But Godbout's biggest passion is the quality of the fish, and, of course, the dish.

A big part of economic recovery here in Charleston is the work of local fisherman, so the meal I was treated to consisted of a local fish called a Sheepshead, which can be caught off Florida and the Gulf Coast.

In our demonstration, it was delivered to the plate less than five hours after it was caught.

Some of Charleston's top chefs say that the recession hasn't been easy, but that Godbout is a secret ingredient.

"You can just feel the love of what he does," said sushi chef Chang Yun. "And you know it makes me a better chef. He's as passionate about fish as I am about cooking."

"All my friends will be jealous when my chef friends see what he brings me," he said. The first thing other chefs ask him he said, "is where I get it and, of course, I don't tell them."

Charleston Economy 'Rebounding'

Adam Close, the chef at Blossom restaurant said that Godbout is hugely important to the community.

"He's helping this city recover," he said.

Godbout says that his little enterprise is an example of the type of business that is needed to fuel the economic rebound.

"We've turned [a corner]; we're going up," he said of Charleston's economy. "You're seeing it come around. We've got Boeing coming to town -- there's 4,000 jobs there. We sense that some of the recession is still here, but I like to think Charleston is rebounding. I like to think that we're coming back out of a hole and things are getting better."

And he has this message to those looking for work.

"Hope. Keep looking, keep persevering," he said. "Keep going."