After nearly 50 years in business, Captain White Seafood City is departing the Wharf in Southwest DC. Two of the three barges that make up its floating open-air fish market were detached from the pier and towed by boat down the Potomac River today. Captain White will continue limited operations at the Wharf from the third barge until December. The seafood purveyor plans to eventually relocate to another yet-to-be-announced location in the area.
“You’re going to have to ask the developers next door why,” says co-owner Pete White when asked about the move. (White is one of the sons of longtime owner Billy Ray White, who died in a car crash last year.)
The departure is the culmination of a legal battle that Captain White has waged with Wharf developer Hoffman-Madison Waterfront and the DC government over the last several years over the intricacies of its leases and the $2 billion development of the Southwest waterfront. In 2015, Captain White and neighboring Salt Water Seafood filed a lawsuit alleging the developer and the city were conspiring to drive them out of business. They claimed that the developer encroached on their leased property, blocking access points, towing their vehicles, and otherwise interfering with their operations. They also alleged that eviction notices were unjustified.
Mark Dorigan, CEO of Hoffman & Associates, told the Washington Business Journal at the time that Captain White’s owner refused to provide a signed lease or pay rent. Dorigan also claimed the business was leaving its delivery trucks in public parking and making non-permitted changes to its space, among a series of other allegations.
In March of 2021, a US District judge ruled that the fish market leases were void, and Captain White and Salt Water Seafood were month-to-month tenants. The most recent court filing, from October, indicates the plaintiffs and the developers reached an agreement to dismiss all claims upon completion of certain obligations by November 30—the date by which Captain White says it will completely vacate the Wharf.
“During its centuries of existence, the Municipal Fish Market has been home to dozens of different fish, produce, and food vendors and will continue to do so after the departure of Captain White—with the beloved Jessie Taylor Seafood remaining the anchor of the market,” Hoffman-Madison Waterfront said in a statement. It continues:
“Years before construction of The Wharf began, The Wharf development and operations teams worked tirelessly with District Officials to provide additional customer parking, security, and sanitation services to help preserve and grow the existing customer base of the Municipal Fish Market.
Hoffman-Madison Waterfront remains committed to preserving the legacy and vibrancy of the Municipal Fish Market that serves as a true gathering place for DC and will continue to carry on the rich tradition of small and local vendors selling fresh and affordable seafood at The Wharf for years to come.”
White declined to comment further on the seafood purveyor’s relationship with the Wharf developers. As for the new location?
“It will be local,” White says. “I don’t know if it will be DC or not, but it will be around the area.”