In Search of Old Buck: Old Christmas on the Outer Banks

“I know someone in Rodanthe,” a Hatteras fisherman confided, “who has Old Buck’s head in a box in a closet.” I had heard that the mythological bull made his Old Christmas appearance late in the evening, rope-led by a handler. His long horns were shiny and formidable, his hide speckled and tough, and his four legs? They were pants-clad and wearing shoes! Tales of shrieking children, encouraged by their parents to touch Old Buck for good luck, indicated that they were none the wiser about the two men crouched under the cow hide.

I called the “keeper of the head,” probably sounding a little too eager to chat. She hung up on me after exclaiming, “Outsiders make fun of us.”

Fortunately, other banks residents were more than willing to talk about Rodanthe’s unusual ritual, and many had fond memories of participating in the annual event. So just what is Old Christmas?

Read more at South Writ Large.

Charting The Course

Across the nation, the commercial fishing fleet is aging as younger people seek jobs outside of the industry. North Carolina’s coastal communities are exploring ways to shift that direction.

Young people who hitched their future to the North Carolina commercial fishing industry in the 1970s and 1980s followed a clear path. After learning the trade under the tutelage of an experienced captain, they struck out on their own with a modest boat and a small investment in fishing gear.

These new captains were confident about their future, buoyed by the 1976 passage of the Magnuson-Stevens Act — the primary law governing marine fisheries management in U.S. federal waters — and national interest in expanding the country’s fishing economy.

Many fishermen of that generation continue to work in the industry. But these days, fewer young people are setting their sights on a fishing career. Those familiar with the situation describe it as the “graying of the fleet.”

Read more at North Carolina Sea Grant's Coastwatch.

Next Generation Exhibit at Day at the Docks

Barbara Garrity-Blake, David Griffith, and Susan West will be at the North Carolina Sea Grant exhibit at Day at the Docks in Hatteras on Saturday, September 16, with fisheries specialist Sara Mirabilio to share information about the Next Generation Coastal Communities research project. 

We are especially interested in hearing your ideas about the types of support that could help build visionary leadership in the next generation of commercial fishermen.   

This winter we will hold action roundtables for young NC commercial fishermen.  Good models for NC to consider include the Alaska Young Fishermen’s Network ( )and Maine’s Commercial Fishermen’s Action Roundtable (C-FAR) (

We will be in the Education Tent where you’ll find a variety of exhibits about fishing and fish by Outer Banks Catch, NC Watermen United, and other groups.  The NC Agromedicine Institute will be offering free health screenings for fishermen. 

More information about Day at the Docks activities can be found at and .



Voices from the Fisheries

The 1997 NC Fisheries Reform Act Oral History Collection is now a featured multi-media exhibit on NOAA's Voices from the Fisheries website.

The Voices from the Fisheries Database is a central repository for consolidating, archiving, and disseminating oral history interviews related to commercial, recreational, and subsistence fishing in the United States and its territories. Oral history interviews are a powerful way to document the human experience with our marine, coastal, and Great Lakes environments and our living marine resources. 

Visit Voices from the Fisheries here.

Fisheries Reform Act Summit Set for September 27, 2017

Outer Banks Catch is hosting a NC Fisheries Reform Act Summit on Wednesday, September 27, 2017, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., at the Civic Center in Washington, NC. 

The 1997 Fisheries Reform Act serves as the framework for the coastal fisheries management process in North Carolina. 

The Summit will feature in-depth discussions about the Reform Act, its effectiveness in protecting coastal fishery resources and balancing stakeholder interests, and its capacity to address new and emerging issues impacting coastal resources. 

For more information, visit .



Next Generation

Garrity-Blake and West are working on the Next Generation Coastal Communities project with principal investigator David Griffith of East Carolina University and collaborator Sara Mirabilio, fisheries specialist with North Carolina Sea Grant.  Ongoing research is focused on identifying current leadership capacity and exploring ways to strengthen that capacity.

The outcome of this research is to build leadership capacity as a renewable resource in coastal communities.  Visionary leadership can help convert local knowledge and expertise into broader policy innovations.  The most effective and sustainable leadership models are often decentralized, bottom-up and encourage innovations at the grassroots instead of commands from above.  

Next Generation Coastal Communities: Leveraging social capital to build leadership capacity is funded by North Carolina Sea Grant.


Haint Blue: The 1997 NC Fisheries Reform Act

Discussions of Science, Policy and Politics : A project of the Coastal and Ocean Policy program at the University of North Carolina Wilmington.

In commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the NC Fisheries reform Act of 1997, several scientists and commercial fishing representatives joined together to provide an oral history of the act including, its passage and locals' experiences.  

The research team conducted 13 oral history interviews, created 3 podcasts, and developed a discussion guide suitable for use in classrooms and public forums.  

During the Spring 2017 term, the MCOP capstone class participated in the researchers' introduction of their podcast to elicit feedback and students had the opportunity to discuss the material with project leads.  

The podcast was very cool and very well done!  Definitely worth a listen.

You can find more information on the project and the full podcast at Raising the

(From )

West to Speak at Friends of Outer Banks History Center Annual Meeting

Susan West will talk about the Coastal Voices oral history project at the Friends of the Outer Banks History Center Annual Meeting on Thursday, April 27th, at 6:00 pm.  For more information, call the Outer Banks History Center at 252-473-2655. 

Susan West and Barbara Garrity-Blake conducting an oral history interviewing workshop in Avon in 2016.

Susan West and Barbara Garrity-Blake conducting an oral history interviewing workshop in Avon in 2016.

New Podcast Explores History of North Carolina’s 1997 Fisheries Reform Act

The first episode of Lo & Behold: The Fisheries Reform Act, a podcast by Bit & Grain, is now available at

The podcast is based on 13 oral history interviews conducted with fishermen, scientists, environmental advocates and resource managers involved in creating and implementing the 1997 N.C. Fisheries Reform Act. The comprehensive oral history project was made possible by the Community Collaborative Research Grant, a program supported by North Carolina Sea Grant in partnership with the William R. Kenan Jr. Institute for Engineering, Technology and Science based at North Carolina State University.

Project coordinator, Susan West, notes that opportunities to record and document the experiences of those involved are fading as this year marks the 20th anniversary of the original act. “Through collaboration, we were able to produce a multidimensional record of these voices that can be readily accessed by the public,” she explains.

Read the complete North Carolina Sea Grant news release here.

Telling the Story of the Fisheries Reform Act

“I think the most important aspect was the mechanism of developing a fisheries management plan for each of the major species.  Now, that’s not as easy as it sounds, of course, and no species stands on its own,” Dr. B. J. Copeland, retired North Carolina State University professor of Zoology and Marine Sciences, told oral historian Mary Williford last June.

Copeland was talking about the 1997 North Carolina Fisheries Reform Act, the most significant fisheries legislation in state history, and the three years of research, meetings, outreach, and negotiation that preceded passage of the act.  In 1994, the General Assembly had approved a moratorium on the sale of new commercial fishing licenses and established a 19-member committee to oversee study of the state's coastal fisheries management process and recommend changes to improve the process. 

Copeland was the executive director of North Carolina Sea Grant during that period and served on the study committee.  The committee reviewed fishing licenses, fishing gears, habitat protection, regulatory agency organization, and law enforcement, and developed recommendations to improve the coastal fisheries management process.  Those recommendations formed the basis for the Reform Act. 

Altogether, Williford and other oral historians interviewed thirteen people for the 1997 NC Fisheries Reform Act: An Oral History Perspective project.  Interviewees were fishermen, scientists, resource managers, elected officials, and environmental advocates instrumental in developing and implementing the legislation. 

Read more at the Albemarle-Pamlico National Estuary Partnership’s Sound Reflections.


Photograph by Jimmy Johnson, APNEP

Photograph by Jimmy Johnson, APNEP

The Power of Story: The Linking Generations Project

Outer Banks storytelling traditions and digital technology have joined together in Coastal Voices: Linking Generations, a collaborative project that has transformed access to interviews with Hatteras and Ocracoke residents.

Linking Generations is an online collection of 49 oral history interviews conducted between 1978 and 2004 for the Southern Oral History and the National Park Service Cape Hatteras National Seashore Ethnohistory Project. The exhibit includes audio recordings and written transcriptions.

Coastal Voices, a regional oral history program of the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum and Heritage Center, provided digitization of the interview recordings on loan from the Outer Banks History Center and developed the online exhibit. The Outer Banks Community Foundation funded the project.

The transcriptions are popular with researchers interested in specific places, people or events described in the interviews, but the voice inflections and pauses heard in the recordings convey emotion and meaning. Listeners also hear local dialects that have largely disappeared.

Linking Generations is a rich source of first-hand accounts of events and experiences that aren’t recorded in official documents. Narrators tell their stories in their own words, generously sharing deeply personal accounts that build a powerful picture of community life, as evident in the following edited interview excerpts.

Margaret Willis, Frisco:

“My dad sent us upstairs with my mom. And then the sound tide started coming. And it got so bad that the waves were breaking on the back of our house and spattering in the upstairs window. It washed everything out of the house. And Ronald Stowe’s party boat went through our yard. Looking out the window, you couldn’t see anything but water. I was so scared, I thought we had washed out into the sound. Our house washed off its blocks and the Red Cross came and put it back for us.”

David “Lance” Midgett, Waves:

“In the old days, the doctor would come down from Manteo. He’d fly down. There was an old landing strip and cow pen between here and Salvo. The cow pen had fifteen cows. It was fenced off on three sides and then the water. The piper cub landed in that. The pilot stayed to keep the cows from licking it to death while the doctor made calls.”

Gibb Gray, Avon:

“I saw one big explosion in the middle of the night. The house shook bad and my dad said a ship had been hit. I could see the red glow. We learned later it was the City of Atlanta. Another time the school got lashed with another violent explosion and looking down towards the lighthouse, we saw the smoke, the black smoke boiling up. That was the Dixie Arrow. It was an exciting time that happened all of a sudden, with the war right at our doorstep. The Army cavalry on horses was here for patrol duty between the stations. That was the last time the cavalry horses were used. They’d come on train from Little Washington and they’d put the horses on a barge when they got to the Pamlico.”

Douglas “Chubby” Dorris, Frisco:

“One thing that sticks out in my mind was Monday, regardless of the weather, was always wash day and bean day. Grandmamma didn’t have the scrub board no more, she had the wringer washing machine. That wasn’t only at our house, that was the whole neighborhood. Monday was washday, it was like a tradition. You didn’t do nothing on Sunday. If you wanted a blouse or a shirt ironed, you better have it done Saturday. Granddaddy hardly ever raised his voice, but he’d better not catch you plugging the iron in on a Sunday and he wasn’t a real religious, church-going man. Now you couldn’t plug the iron in, but he always had a poker game every Sunday afternoon at his fish camp where he kept his nets stored.”

Lucy Stowe, Hatteras:

“Instead of getting to Atlanta, Georgia, they put me right on the weather station here at Hatteras. Gave me about a week’s training. This is a thermometer and that’s a barometer and this is a barograph. The next year we put in pilot balloons that we tracked with a theodolite, getting wind direction and velocity aloft. Then maybe the next year they put in the radiosonde. Then after World War II when radar became available, that really changed the ways of reporting weather.”

Elizabeth O’Neal Howard, Ocracoke:

“My grandfather was an old sea captain. He was in Charleston, South Carolina, in the very beginning of the Civil War and he decided that he was going to make a run for it. The port captain told him that he didn’t have a chance, that he’d never make it. But he got on the boat and snuck out of Charleston during the heaviest of the bombardment. Came to this inlet and went on up to the Roanoke River and sunk the boat. Only the top of the mast was sticking out, and he took the sails ashore and buried them. He said no damn Yankee was going to get that boat. Then he came home and the boat rested there until the Civil War was over. Then he took barrels and pontooned it. I guess that’s the right word, but that’s how he got it out.”

From Coast, by Susan West, contributing writer


David "Lance" Midgett, photo by Barbara Garrity-Blake

David "Lance" Midgett, photo by Barbara Garrity-Blake

Eph O'Neal - a true Hatterasman

Ephraim “Eph” O’Neal was a true Hatterasman –a scholar of the sea, humble about his accomplishments, and fiercely proud of his family and his hometown.

“I’ve never been one to place much stock in medals or awards or citations,” Eph said in 2005 after he received a package in the mail that contained his Bronze Star, earned in recognition of his heroic deeds as an infantryman at Anzio Beach in Italy during World War II. 

“I knew that it said on my discharge papers that I was to receive the medal, but I never thought too much about it. I guess I was in too much of a hurry to get back to Hatteras and go fishing again,” he explained. 

His young wife, Daisy Stowe O’Neal, was also anxious to return to the village where she had been born. The couple had married in 1944, and Daisy had joined Eph in Biloxi, Mississippi when he returned to the states. 

Born in Hatteras village in 1920, Eph was just nine years old when he started gill-netting in the mornings before school. He also worked at one of the fish houses in the village, unloading fish from fishing boats and packing the catch for transport to Elizabeth City, North Carolina on one of the freight boats running out of the village.

Before long, he captained his own boat, a 17 feet long sailboat, fishing for mullet, trout and drum. His formal education came to an end when he was in the ninth grade at the village school and decided he could learn most of what he needed to know plying the waters of Pamlico Sound. 

“There’s never been a better place to live and we fared pretty well. We had fish, clams, oysters, and sea turtles that we ate. We had three meals a day and clothes to keep us warm, but we didn’t have money,” Eph said, reflecting on life on the island during the Great Depression. 

In addition to gill-netting, Eph pound-netted, haul-seined, oystered, crab-potted and ran charter-fishing trips during his career as a fisherman.

In the early 1970s, sensing that Hatteras Island’s growing popularity with tourists offered a way to bolster his reliance on fishing with other ventures, he opened two marinas, a campground and a motel, either alone or in partnerships. It was around that time that he also became a Dare County magistrate, a position he held for thirty years. 

“I had had two years of bad fishing and that’s when I decided to build Village Marina,” Eph said. “But I still fished a little then and I packed fish there in the winter after the tourist season ended each year.”

O’Neal then placed more chips on his faith in the future of the island’s commercial fishing industry and built a fish house on the harbor in the village. Cape Hatteras Seafood flourished with more than twenty boats unloading there. Most were drop-netting boats fishing for croakers, trout and bluefish in the winter but some Core Sound trawlers also used the facility.

When new state and federal fishing regulations began to rapidly multiply, swamping the business with a flood of paperwork, aggravation and reduced profits, Eph closed the fish house. 

But he continued to fish and crab and oyster, and continued to advocate for the village’s commercial fishing industry. For many years, he showed visitors how to build a fishing net at the Day at the Docks celebration and participated in the annual Blessing of the Fleet.

“My grandfather taught us the importance of seeing what you can make of life, of not stopping when you’ve accomplished a goal but of using that experience as a stepping stone in finding your purpose,” said Natasha Farrow, Eph’s granddaughter.

(Editor's note:  Hatteras Island writer and historian, Susan West remembers Ephraim “Eph” O'Neal who died on February 17, 2017.)  (From The Island Free Press.)



Coastal Voices Features NC Fisheries Reform Act Collection

Recordings, transcripts and audio excerpts of thirteen oral history interviews conducted with individuals instrumental in crafting and implementing the 1997 NC Fisheries Reform Act are now available in a Coastal Voices exhibit. 

Click here to go to the exhibit.

Coastal Voices is an oral history project about the maritime heritage of the Outer Banks and Down East region of North Carolina.


Oral historians Barbara Garrity-Blake and Mary Williford interviewed Governor Beverly Perdue who was NC Senate Appropriations Committee co-chair when the Fisheries Reform Act was making its way through the NC General Assembly.