Locking Horns with the Future

Though commercial fishing is an uncertain bet, a new generation of Hatteras watermen is willing to take the chance.

The headlines tell the story of an American industry on the brink. Pounded by tightening regulations, escalating expenses, stagnant or declining fish prices and shrinking working waterfronts, the future of commercial fishing seems caught in a seismic wave of uncertainty.

Yet even as old fishermen lament the passing of the industry they have known and loved, a new generation of commercial fishermen has emerged in places like Hatteras Island.

These younger men aren’t afraid to lock horns with the future. They adopt innovative ways to run businesses that provide fresh, wild-caught seafood, and they scale their operations to meet regulatory, environmental and economic challenges.

JEREMY O’NEAL

Jeremy O’Neal is 28 years old and the father of two little girls. He started fishing shortly after graduating from Cape Hatteras Secondary School; he was offered a job as mate on the Miss Megan, a gill net boat working out of Hatteras village.

Last year O’Neal bought his own boat, the Goose, a 25-foot Downeaster that he uses to net Spanish mackerel, bluefish, dogfish, king mackerel, croaker and sea mullet in the Atlantic and in Pamlico Sound.

Read the rest of the story in Outer Banks Magazine.

 

Business As Usual: Fishing for a Living

Few women in North Carolina set their sights on fishing for a living.

Current statistics show only 5.5 percent of the 5,449 commercial fishing license holders in the state are women. That rate varied little over the past decade, according to the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries. Anecdotal evidence also indicates that female deck hands, much less captains, are rare.

Women working in commercial fishing, however, see few obstacles unique to their gender. They say they face the same challenges as their male counterparts — long hours, hard work, rough seas, mechanical problems and fluctuating catches.

“Commercial fishing is punishing and dangerous work, and many ‘greenhorns’ — men or women — quit after the first trip,” notes Sara Mirabilio,  a North Carolina Sea Grant fisheries specialist.

“But if a woman proves herself not weak of spirit and a quick learner, she will be accepted. I don’t think there’s gender inequality.”

Yet women’s varied roles may not be as visible. Along the North Carolina coast and beyond, women have a tradition of working in the commercial fishing industry — hanging nets, picking crabs, shucking scallops, building pots, selling fish, attending fishery management meetings, and working nets and lines.

“Fishing is often seen as a male activity, but the paid and unpaid labor of women that goes toward sustaining fisheries and fishing communities often is not recognized,” Mirabilio adds.

Some women working in the industry come from generations of fishing families, while others are newcomers. Take some time to meet a few who work the waters for a living.

• CAPTAIN’S CHALLENGES

Shannon Dunn skippers her family’s 32-foot fishing boat from a creek-side berth in Hatteras Village to offshore fishing grounds in search of Spanish mackerel, king mackerel and other fish.

Read the rest of the story in Coastwatch, a NC Sea Grant publication.

The 1997 NC Fisheries Reform Act: An Oral History Perspective

The 1997 NC Fisheries Reform Act project consists of thirteen oral history interviews conducted with fishermen, scientists, advocates, and resource managers instrumental in crafting and implementing the Reform Act, the most significant fisheries legislation in North Carolina history.  The interviews will be available online and form the basis for a series of podcasts currently under production.  Garrity-Blake and West conducted interviews and West serves as project manager, working with a team of collaborators fluent in coastal ecosystems, archival science, and audio podcasting.  The project is funded by the North Carolina Sea Grant Community Collaborative Research Grant Program.

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Kinnakeet Adventure

Garrity-Blake and West are working with residents of Avon, North Carolina who are conducting oral history interviews with individuals who lived in Kinnakeet (Avon) village in the 1930s, when Stanley E. Green was principal and teacher at the village school. In 1971, Green wrote about his years living in Avon in a book called Kinnakeet Adventure.  The interviews are posted in a collection on the Coastal Voices website.

 

Port Light

Port Light captures the rich history of the trade, civic, and kin connections that extended across the sounds of North Carolina from the Outer Banks to mainland ports.  The project traces historical connections from the Outer Banks communities of Dare, Hyde and Carteret counties to mainland port towns during the early 1900s, when boats were the primary mode of transportation. Through audio excerpts, photographs, and written word, the story of boat transportation and the economic and cultural connections relations between barrier island communities and mainland ports is interpreted.  Garrity-Blake and West conducted oral history interviews and researched existing interviews and other material for Port Light.  A project of the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum and Heritage Center, the project was funded by the National Maritime Heritage Grant Program.

Coastal Voices

Coastal Voices is an oral history project about the maritime heritage of the Outer Banks and Down East region of coastal North Carolina.  Garrity-Blake and West started the project with a Kickstarter campaign in 2013 that drew the financial support of more than individuals, businesses, and organizations.  A series of workshops on oral history interviewing and recording engaged local residents in capturing their community's legacy of resiliency and strength.  A project of the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum and Heritage Center, Coastal Voices expanded with support from the National Park Service, the Outer Banks Community Foundation, and the Outer Banks History Center. 

On the Horizon: Emerging Trends in North Carolina’s Seafood Industry

“I go to sleep at night wondering whether I’ll be able to go to work tomorrow,” said Buxton gillnetter Dale Farrow. “I started fishing when I was twelve, bumping around in the creek here, and I’m not trained to do anything else.”  Farrow jostled his boat, Miss Geraldine, into the queue of fishing boats waiting to unload at Jeffrey’s Seafood in Hatteras. The atmosphere on the fishing docks was electric after a good day of fishing for the fleet. Men shouted out to each other over thenoise ofgurgling diesel engines, clambering conveyor belts, and a rhythmic clink as workers shoveled ice into fish boxes; a noisy backdrop to the daily theater that plays out in fish houses all along North Carolina’s coast.

The bustling scene masked the worry that comes during the quiet nighttime hours. Commercial fishermen, contrary to their guarded, tough demeanor, are optimists at heart, rolling with the mean seas, stiff winds, and running tides that can be part and parcel of another day on the water. But that resiliency is put to the test when matched up against man-made forces that are quickly rearranging the watermen’s world. Hit with layers of increasingly stringent regulations, low fish and shellfish prices, and high fuel costs, fishermen face an uncertain future and many count themselves as an endangered species.

by Susan West and Barbara J. Garrity-Blake, From the North Carolina Folklore Journal, 59.1 Spring-Summer 2012.  Visit the North Carolina Folklore Journal site to read the full article in Issue # 59.1

 

Talk of the Villages

Talk of the Villages is a public forum exploring the challenges and opportunities facing commercial fishing and the seafood industry in the United States.  The forum is part of Day at the Docks, an annual celebration of the working watermen culture of Hatteras Island, NC.  Garrity-Blake and West have served as co-moderators of forums featuring Alaska, Rhode Island, Louisiana, Massachusetts, South Carolina, and North Carolina commercial fishermen, seafood dealers, chefs, and food writers. 

 

 

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Fish House Opera

 "Fish House Opera eloquently captures the authentic flavor of a self-reliant way of life invisible to the average beach-going tourist - a way of life that struggles daily against pollution, shorefront development, and government bureaucrats.  In these pages you'll meet men and women whose lives are built on hard work, faith, an old-fashioned sense of community, tradition, luck, and a wry sense of humor that comes from practicing the world's most dangerous profession day after day for a lifetime.  This book is a work of great and lasting worth, a window into a truly American culture and a tribute to lasting values.  You'll enjoy every word, and these 'characters' will stick in your memory for a long time to come."  - Philip Gerard, author of Brilliant Passage and Cape Fear Rising.

Published by Mystic Seaport Press, Fish House Opera is available for purchase at  Buxton Village Books