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Special Report
His Personal Crusade
Steve Phillips, president and CEO of Phillips Seafood Restaurants, lived through the destruction of the Chesapeake Bay, and he’s vowed not to sit by idling while the same thing happens in Asia.

This month will mark the 20th anniversary of a local East Coast publication called the Bay Journal. When it published its first issue, the main headline proudly read "Taking a new look at an old goal," referring to the 1987 Chesapeake Bay Agreement to reduce nutrient pollution in the Chesapeake by 40 percent by the year 2000.

The publication, like many in the news industry, has since changed. But much about the publication’s coverage, according to its editor Karl Blankenship, has not changed over the last two decades. After all, the conservation of the Chesapeake Bay is still a priority among environmentalists in the area, and there continue to be public and private efforts to save the bay.

While QSR has no ties to the Bay Journal (at its creation, QSR did not even exist, and its publishing company was creating medical journals and the KFC franchisee quarterly), the bay has ties to many QSR readers. One specifically is Steve Phillips, president and CEO of Phillips Seafood Restaurants, a chain of six quick-service and 11 full-service locations.

Just one year after the “old goal” referenced in the Bay Journal was established, Phillips embarked on a trip that would change his then-75-year-old seafood company and eventually the entire seafood industry forever.

Phillips, a fourth-generation bay resident, left his familiar waters and went to Asia, where he set into motion an international economy that still booms more than 20 years later. That was 1988—three years before the Bay Journal was first published, 34 years after Phillips’ family opened its first restaurant in Hoopers Island, Maryland, and the year he first realized his beloved bay was in trouble and that he had to look elsewhere to source the crab for his restaurants.

There used to be 450 oyster shucking houses along the Chesapeake Bay, and now there’s one left.”

“My grandfather on my mother’s side was a Chesapeake Bay waterman, so he was a crabber in the summer and a fisherman in the winter,” Phillips says. “As a young kid, I used to go out with him to catch oysters. The Chesapeake Bay was a tremendous bounty of seafood with the oysters, fish, and crab. As a young boy, I never thought that would run out. I said, ‘This will be here forever.’”

Unfortunately, as most know, Phillips’ childhood prediction did not come true. A combination of overfishing, lack of governmental protection of the area, and overdevelopment along its coasts nearly destroyed the fragile body of water and the ecosystems it housed.

“Within my lifetime, I’ve seen a total erosion of our resources,” Phillips says. “There used to be 450 oyster shucking houses along the Chesapeake Bay, and now there’s one left. The oysters have disappeared, the fish have disappeared, and the crabs have diminished and struggle to hang on every year.”

That total erosion of resources led Phillips to look elsewhere for his crab. “Twenty-two years ago, when the prawn industry was in its infancy in Asia,” Phillips says, “I was reading an article about it, and there was a photograph attached to it with a little basket of crab in the corner of the photo. So I said, ‘My gosh, they have crab in Asia!’”

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