Flying Fish

Exploring North Carolina’s Fishing Community
by Nicole Carlozo -- February 21st, 2012

Join me on a two-day tour of the Albemarle-Pamlico estuary, from Cedar Island to Ocracoke, Nags Head and Wanchese. Two ferry rides and two fish houses later, I’m still thinking about fish.

With blue skies and 60 degree weather spurring us on, we boarded the Cedar Island Ferry for Ocracoke.

With blue skies and 60 degree weather spurring us on, we boarded the Cedar Island Ferry for Ocracoke.

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We enjoyed a smooth ride above deck and although there were no dolphin sightings, we were joined by a number of gulls and cormorants.

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Two hours later, we arrived at the far end of Ocracoke. As we docked in Silver Lake harbor, I couldn't help but notice how quiet the island seemed. With a tourism-based economy, just about 700 people populate the island during the off-season.

Ocracoke, as the site of Blackbeard's death, is well known for its pirate history. Our Fisheries Policy class, however, had other interests. After arriving in Ocracoke, we made our way to the Ocracoke Seafood Company.

Ocracoke, as the site of Blackbeard's death, is well known for its pirate history. Our Fisheries Policy class, however, had other interests. After arriving in Ocracoke, we made our way to the Ocracoke Seafood Company.

The Ocracoke Seafood Company is a fisheries cooperative that was formed in the 1970s when the fishermen needed a place to land their fish. At least 4 fish houses use to line the harbor's shore before regulations, overfishing, and imported products caused the houses to close. Last year, a half million dollars was paid out to about 40 participating fishermen.

The Ocracoke Seafood Company is a fisheries cooperative that was formed in the 1970s when the fishermen needed a place to land their fish. At least 4 fish houses use to line the harbor's shore before regulations, overfishing, and imported products caused the houses to close. Last year, a half million dollars was paid out to about 40 participating fishermen.

Fish are landed at the fish house, traveling up a number of conveyor belts and through a washing tank before being packed in ice for shipment. The Co-op provides fresh seafood to local restaurants in the summer, but sells most up North in New York, Philadelphia, and even Canada.

Fish are landed at the fish house, traveling up a number of conveyor belts and through a washing tank before being packed in ice for shipment. The Co-op provides fresh seafood to local restaurants in the summer, but sells most up North in New York, Philadelphia, and even Canada.

A view inside the fish house. The house is closed during the winter months due to reduced populations and local demand.

A view inside the fish house. The house is closed during the winter months due to reduced populations and local demand.

Fishermen on the island have historically acted as

Fishermen on the island have historically acted as "independent contractors." But as fish house after fish house closed, the co-op was developed to protect commercial fishing as a a lifestyle. The Co-op is supported by Golden LEAF Foundation grants and functions on a 65-year lease. The fishermen we spoke to talked about their occupation as the "center of the community." Unfortunately, the industry currently has a youth recruitment problem.

After leaving Ocracoke Seafood, we headed up the island to explore the coastline and catch our second ferry to Hatteras.

After leaving Ocracoke Seafood, we headed up the island to explore the coastline and catch our second ferry to Hatteras.

The Outer Banks are constantly in flux as erosion and accretion alter the landscape. Fishermen and Boaters must carefully navigate the waters since channel depths and safe paths change daily.

The Outer Banks are constantly in flux as erosion and accretion alter the landscape. Fishermen and Boaters must carefully navigate the waters since channel depths and safe paths change daily.

We explored the dunes and beach until our ferry arrived. Then, onward to Hatteras!

We explored the dunes and beach until our ferry arrived. Then, onward to Hatteras!

The constant fluctuations around the Outer Banks have proved unsafe for many a sailor. This area is well-known for its shipwrecks and was even dubbed

The constant fluctuations around the Outer Banks have proved unsafe for many a sailor. This area is well-known for its shipwrecks and was even dubbed "Graveyard of the Atlantic." Still, a beautiful view!

In order to make traveling a little safer, lighthouses dot the Carolina coast. The Cape Hatteras lighthouse is the tallest in the country!

In order to make traveling a little safer, lighthouses dot the Carolina coast. The Cape Hatteras lighthouse is the tallest in the country!

We ended our day with a sunset visit to the Hatteras Lighthouse.

We ended our day with a sunset visit to the Hatteras Lighthouse.

The second day of our trip started at Wanchese Seafood Industrial Park, a large port with potential to improve the local economy if the nearby inlet was a more reliable. Then, we headed to the Full Circle Crab Company where we talked with owner Willy Phillips.

The second day of our trip started at Wanchese Seafood Industrial Park, a large port with potential to improve the local economy if the nearby inlet was a more reliable. Then, we headed to the Full Circle Crab Company where we talked with owner Willy Phillips.

Willy buys from about 100 different fishermen and provides fresh seafood product to locals and northern states. He sells many local species including white perch, yellow perch, catfish, croakers, stripped bass, blue crabs, and tuna

Willy buys from about 100 different fishermen and provides fresh seafood product to locals and northern states. He sells many local species including white perch, yellow perch, catfish, croakers, stripped bass, blue crabs, and tuna

The fish house has extensive blue crab shedding tanks that hold around 10,000 soft crabs at a time. Crabs are placed here under 24-hour surveillance and removed after molting. Soft crabs are highly valuable and can be sold at $54/dozen.

The fish house has extensive blue crab shedding tanks that hold around 10,000 soft crabs at a time. Crabs are placed here under 24-hour surveillance and removed after molting. Soft crabs are highly valuable and can be sold at $54/dozen.

Willy's fish house is unusual in that it is extremely clean and environmentally conscious. While waiting for your order, you can peruse fisheries management and heritage literature. The products are also presented carefully in a display case to encourage tourist buyers. Why is this fish house the exception? Willy has been involved in fishing, dealing, and fisheries management for many years. He has even served on the Marine Fisheries Commission.

Willy's fish house is unusual in that it is extremely clean and environmentally conscious. While waiting for your order, you can peruse fisheries management and heritage literature. The products are also presented carefully in a display case to encourage tourist buyers. Why is this fish house the exception? Willy has been involved in fishing, dealing, and fisheries management for many years. He has even served on the Marine Fisheries Commission.

After a tour of the fish packing and storage areas, we traveled down the Roanoke River to Jamesville and a restaurant called the Cypress Grill. Their specialty? Herring. North Carolina was once known for the river herring fishery before stocks declined due to overfishing, pollution, and environmental factors. The building wasn't much to look at, but it is one of the last herring shacks left. And the food was delicious. To learn more about the restaurant, visit: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/travel/interest_dec00.html

After a tour of the fish packing and storage areas, we traveled down the Roanoke River to Jamesville and a restaurant called the Cypress Grill. Their specialty? Herring. North Carolina was once known for the river herring fishery before stocks declined due to overfishing, pollution, and environmental factors. The building wasn't much to look at, but it is one of the last herring shacks left. And the food was delicious. To learn more about the restaurant, visit: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/travel/interest_dec00.html

While waiting for our tables, we stood by the river. Herring were once so plentiful that fish wheels were used to harvest the creatures as they moved upstream to spawn. Now, no harvest is allowed. Although overfishing and pollution have contributed to population declines, the fishermen we spoke with reminded us that fish abundance is also a factor of ecosystem changes. Temperature and salinity play a large role in fish migrations and therefore management policies.

While waiting for our tables, we stood by the river. Herring were once so plentiful that fish wheels were used to harvest the creatures as they moved upstream to spawn. Now, no harvest is allowed. Although overfishing and pollution have contributed to population declines, the fishermen we spoke with reminded us that fish abundance is also a factor of ecosystem changes. Temperature and salinity play a large role in fish migrations and therefore management policies.

We ended our tour with a trip to the NC Estuarium in Washington, NC. Education plays just as large a role in fisheries management as science and policy.

We ended our tour with a trip to the NC Estuarium in Washington, NC. Education plays just as large a role in fisheries management as science and policy.

 

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