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Time for a change: Third generation Pine Island fisherman sells boats, traps and starts new business

By Staff | Feb 20, 2019

Eddie Barnhill, a third generation Pine Island fisherman, has sold his boats and traps and started a new business, Got Ice, Inc.

The Barnhill family has been fishing from Pine Island since Eddie Barn-hill’s grandfather, Alfred Barnhill, arrived here from Punta Gorda. His father, Edward Sr., also fished his entire life and that was Eddie’s plan to fish until he turned the business over to his sons.

“I believe my grandfather was one of the first five families on the island,” Barnhill said. “They lived in the fishing shacks on White Rock Shoals until my grandmother got tired of it and insisted they move to the island.”

Although Barnhill is unsure when his grandfather came to Pine Island, he relates a family story that his grandfather moved the old schoolhouse to its current location at the Waterfront Restaurant. This happened during the 1940s.

“When my grandfather moved here, it was to fish, that’s what we do, and we expected to be doing forever,” Barnhill said. “I had my own boat when I was 7 years old. We did that up until the net ban in 1995. My dad saw it coming and bought a chicken farm up north. He still fished and when I finished high school we got into lobster trapping in the Keys, and stone crabs here.”

Everything was going along fine, Barnhill expanded his operation and then Pine Island fishermen had three bad years of red tide, killing off the stone crab industry. Finally, last year they had 14 continuous months of red tide and it was last summer that Barnhill knew he had to make a decision.

“This just devastated the stone crab industry,” Barnhill said. “My main source of income was stone crabs. I had a big boat, I had 9,000 traps, I had a new building and the wholesale operation, and I was buying stone crabs from everybody. We had 1,000 to 3,000 pounds night coming through this warehouse. October through May, we did stone crabs, then May through October we were able to keep the lights on with summer mullet.

“I’m sorry that my sons won’t be able to do what I did and become fishermen,” Barnhill said. “We love to fish and now I’m having to tell my sons we have to rethink what we’re doing. We’ll fish forever, but as a career, this may not be the way to earn a living.

“This last summer I knew we were in trouble,” Barnhill said. “My wife and I talked about moving up north of Tampa where we could crab or we needed to figure something out to do here. We had discussed the possibility of selling ice 5-6 years ago but didn’t do anything at the time. So we talked about it again and decided everybody uses ice and there’s not many companies that sell ice in Southwest Florida and no one on Pine Island.”

Barnhill sold his boat, sold his traps and all the equipment that goes into a commercial fishing operation to finance the new business.

Barnhill invested in a variety of commercial-sized ice bins, vehicles and trailers that can deliver ice for any size event

or venue across the county. The company offers 10 and 20 pound bags of ice ideal for commercial and home use, including boats, special occasions, community events or emergency needs.

Barnhill opened Got Ice, Inc. in January in his 5,000-square-foot warehouse located off of Mallory Parkway.

“People often think of emergency ice for events like hurricanes, but being able to get ice delivered immediately is a year-round need with our hot Florida temperatures,” Barnhill said. “A commercial ice machine on site at a marina or restaurant can run low during peak times of the year or unfortunately break down at any time and that’s where we come in.”

Barnhill said by offering 24/7 ice delivery, companies that rely heavily on ice won’t have to shut down or lose valuable inventory in the event they either run low or have a malfunction with their equipment.

“We plan to run Got Ice just like we did our crab and fishing business by offering our clients the highest level of customer service 24 hours per day,” Barnhill said.

For more information about Barnhill’s new business, please visit www.goticeinc.com or call 239-283-1831.