By Hank Tester

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – A little more than a year into the coronavirus pandemic, we’re learning what worked well with some businesses to help them survive.

For Key Largo Fisheries, it was their website.

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“We shipped a lot of stone crabs, fresh fish, Key West pink shrimp, whole tails, whole lobsters,” said Key Largo Fisheries’ Tom Hill.

Keeping the iconic fishery, market, and cafe in the northern Keys up and running had a lot to do with the internet sales.

“We were fortunate in that we were able to start serving people via the web, an awful lot of people looked at our website, taking lots of orders online,” said Hill.

Boxes of Key Largo Fisheries seafood shipped directly to their clients’ doorsteps which helped them expand.

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“We actually added staff. We were able to bring back the people we had to furlough for after a little bit and we added staff to send out UPS and FedEx orders as well to help our retail business and the cafe,” said Hill.

It has not been easy. During the height of the pandemic, there was a Florida Keys shutdown where no tourists or non-residents were allowed beyond a checkpoint. Hill said seafood exports to China fell flat and not every fisherman, lobsterman, or stone crabber wanted to go out.

“The COVID thing did affect that, whether they felt uncomfortable fishing or whatever, it just played a role in it,” said Hill.

In 2020, Southeast Florida commercial fishermen reporting operating at 44 percent capacity compared to 2019. At Key Largo Fisheries, early on federal payroll protection funds helped but since then they have not needed federal dollars. A recent spike in Keys tourism numbers has been encouraging as day-trippers from the mainland have returned.

“Our restaurant is doing well and I was just talking to a couple of guys that came over to pick up product for one of their restaurants and they said they were doing a lot better this year than last,” said Hill.

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In a good year, the Florida fishing industry supports 14-thousand to 17-thousand jobs in the Sunshine State.