P.S.– Shrimping comes to Davis Shore

A shrimp trawler under construction, Morehead City Shipbuilding Corp., 1950s. Courtesy, North Carolina Maritime Museum

A shrimp trawler under construction, Morehead City Shipbuilding Corp., 1950s. Courtesy, North Carolina Maritime Museum

This is an extra to my 11-part series “`The Shrimp Capital of the World’– Charles Farrell’s Photographs of Southport, N.C., 1938”

The other day Ed Pond in Davis Shore got in touch with me.  Ed is an old friend and he tries to keep me straight. Davis Shore– or just plain Davis if you’re not local– is an old fishing village on Core Sound, in the Down East part of Carteret County. Ed grew up there in the 1940s and ‘50s and my recent series on the history of Southport’s shrimping industry had set him to remembering.

His father, Blakely Pond, was a commercial fisherman in Davis Shore. He often told Ed how, in the 1930s, the fish business had grown lean in Davis Shore and the rest of Carteret County, N.C.

The fish weren’t running like they used to. The menhaden business was in a tailspin.

The Great Depression hadn’t helped, either. For a time, every bank in the Carteret County had closed its doors. You couldn’t get credit to purchase nets and other gear. Demand for seafood had plummeted, too: across the U.S., people could no longer afford it.

According to Ed, some of the commercial fishermen in Davis Shore, Atlantic and Marshallberg heard that the shrimp business was at least a little better in Southport, more than 100 miles down the coast.

Desperate for some way to make a better living, they began to take their fishing boats down there in the fall, just like Capt. Leslie Day of Morehead City did in parts 6 through 9 of my series “The Shrimp Capital of the World.”

Ed’s father was one of those fishermen. He had two fishing boats and in the fall he began to put away his drop nets and head to Southport for the shrimping season.

At that time, the shrimping boom had not yet reached the Down East part of Carteret County. I suspect that was largely due to the lack of infrastructure.

After all, as we saw in Part 4 of “The Shrimp Capital of the World,” Southport’s shrimp industry was built on an export market mainly to New York City. But Down East did not have the paved roads, bridges or a railroad the way that Southport did.

Ed’s father did catch a lot of shrimp in Southport. “Shrimping was pretty good,” his father told him.

That didn’t mean he was making much money, though.

Then one day in Southport, after weeks of much work for little profit, he and his crew brought in 2,000 pounds of shrimp. It would be a small fortune today. But he only got 2 cents a pound for the whole catch–  $40.00.

Out of that $40 he had to pay his gasoline bill and he had to split what was left into shares for the crew. If he had got financing from a fish dealer to purchase his nets and supplies, as most shrimpers did, he also had to give a hearty share of that $40 to the fish dealer.

According to Ed, his dad said, “That’s it.” He sold both of his boats and came back to Davis Shore and got a job as a game warden.

A decade later, the tide began to turn for commercial shrimping at Davis Shore.

By 1944 and ’45, the price of shrimp had risen dramatically. That was largely due to the end of the Great Depression and the rising prosperity in the U.S. during  the Second World War.

The infrastructure Down East had also improved dramatically, to no small degree because FDR’s “New Deal” financed road and bridge building projects all the way from Harkers Island to Cedar Island.

More and more often, Ed and his family saw local boats coming into the docks at Davis Shore loaded down to the gunwales with shrimp.

By that time, Ed recalls, the local shrimpers were doing so well that two local fish dealers, T. B. Smith and Virgil Styron, went down to Florida and purchased what was apparently the county’s first big shrimp trawler, the Gulf Stream, and brought her back to Davis Shore.

The Gulf Stream was built in St. Augustine, Florida, in 1949 and was 45 ft. long and carried a diesel engine—a far cry from the local-built boats that were typically about 25-ft long and carried a 3/8 HP automobile engine.

As Ed was growing up, a throng of the local guys invested in trawlers and went shrimping. More than any other fishery, shrimping became the backbone of Davis Shore’s economy.

The county’s boatyards began turning out shrimp trawlers modeled on the Gulf Coast trawlers, too.

Ed worked at one of those boatyards one summer–  the Morehead City Shipbuilding Corp., near what’s now Floyd’s Restaurant in Morehead City.

Founded during World War I, the company had built vessels for the U.S. military during both world wars. In 1950 it began to focus on shrimp trawlers– Hatteras Trawlers, they were called.

When Ed worked there, the company hired its master boat builders mainly from another Down East village, Williston, which is located just west of Davis Shore on the other side of Jarrett Bay.

“They came from a long line of shipwrights and they were the greatest boat builders in the county,” Ed recalled. “They were some kind of smart.”

While the master boat builders came from Williston, the yard crew was largely men from Pelletier and Swansboro.

Ed recalled that many of them didn’t have much schooling. However, he was always impressed how they could measure, build and figure boat dimensions by eye, so deep was their knowledge and experience.

When Ed worked at the shipyard in the mid-1950s, the company’s builders were turning out a trawler every three days. The company sold the trawlers locally and as far away as Texas and Louisiana.

The Age of Shrimp had come to Carteret County. The days of cussing shrimp for fouling their nets and using shrimp for fertilizer were gone!

* * *

Next time– a family story from World War I

2 thoughts on “P.S.– Shrimping comes to Davis Shore

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