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Flashback: Long-Running Family Fishery

Chris Nelson, Bon Secour Fisheries.

Photo by Dan Anderson


Our Flashback this month also serves as a preview of our May issue, which features businesses that are tied to water.

One of the oldest such business was highlighted in December 2011, in a set of stories about family-owned businesses.

Established as an oyster house in 1896 by Danish immigrant Frank Nelson, Bon Secour Fisheries soon began harvesting its own oysters and later began shrimping. Today the company supplies fresh Gulf seafood to restaurants and grocery stores throughout the Southeast, operating a fleet of five shrimp boats and processing shrimp and oysters in a 30,000-square-foot plant on the Bon Secour River in Baldwin County.

Hit by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in April 2010, the company was one of the few water-bound businesses that didn’t lay off workers. “We met quite often to talk about what direction and what strategy we should take to minimize the impact on our company,” said Chris Nelson, vice president of oyster procurement. “A number of places closed or laid off their employees, but we wanted to avoid that if at all possible.”

“We” referred to the board of directors, composed of the founder’s grandson, John Ray Nelson, his three sons Chris, David and John Andrew, as well as the company’s information technology specialist and its comptroller/accountant.

Duties in the company are allocated according to an individual’s interest and abilities, explained Chris. “I was always particularly interested in the oyster production end of the business, so that’s where I settled. In college I studied biology, and I got a marine science degree in graduate school. So the things that are more science oriented tend to gravitate my way.”

His oldest brother, John Andrew, studied economics in college and became president of the company. The middle brother, David, who studied economics and has a master’s degree in business administration, became vice president of sales. “I’m not as conversant with accounting and such things,” explains Chris. “My two older brothers are economic majors, so they had more exposure to that side of the business. We have a good mix of skills, the three of us working together.”

Chris McFadyen is the editorial director of  Business Alabama.

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