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.

1997 NC Fisheries Reform Act Collection Available

The thirteen interviews conducted for the 1997 NC Fisheries Reform Act: An Oral History Perspective are now available on NOAA's Voices from the Fisheries website. 

Click here to access the collection.

The collection will be featured in a multimedia exhibit later this year.

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. Each story archived here provides a unique example of this connection collected from fishermen, their spouses, processing workers, shoreside business workers and operators, recreational and subsistence fishermen, scientists, marine resources managers, and others --all among NOAA's fishery stakeholders.


Dr. B.J. Copeland was interviewed by Mary Williford for the project.  (Photo by Mary Williford.)

Podcast Preview: 1997 Fisheries Reform Act

Interested in marine fisheries management?  Enjoy listening to first-hand accounts of how public policy is made?  Curious about how oral history can help bring scholarship into the public square?

 You are invited to attend a special preview airing of a new podcast exploring the NC Fisheries Reform Act. 

The podcast features the voices of fishermen, scientists, environmental advocates and resource managers instrumental in crafting and implementing the 1997 Act that brought far-reaching change to the way NC manages coastal fisheries.  It is one of a three-part series based on thirteen oral history interviews conducted last year as part of the 1997 NC Fisheries Reform Act: An Oral History Perspective project funded by the North Carolina Sea Grant Community Collaborative Research Program.

 A guided discussion with project developers and narrators will follow the airing.

 Three podcast previews will be held:

 Wednesday, February 22, 2 to 3 p.m., in Newport, NC

Wednesday, March 1, 6:30 to 7:30 p.m., in Wanchese, NC

Tuesday, March 7, 12:30 to 1:30 p.m., in Raleigh, NC

 The event is free but pre-registration is required, as space is limited.

 Please contact Susan West (westontheridge@gmail.com, 252-995-4131) for more information or to register.