Outer Banks Shrimping Numbers Getting Bigger

 In Coastal Life, Food, Sports and Outdoors
shrimping on outer banks

Massive mahi mahi and scale-tipping tuna grab the headlines. Blue crabs especially during softshell season delight diners. But when it comes to one of the biggest aspects of the Outer Banks seafood scene, the attention given to shrimp is, well, kind of shrimpy.

Another few harvests similar to what the OBX enjoyed last year, though, and that might all change for Outer Banks shrimping.

“Shrimping seems like it’s been around awhile, but it’s kind of growing here,” Boo Daniels explains. “Last fall was pretty extraordinary in terms of Outer Banks shrimping. Multiple times, we filled the boat up, which was about 8,500 pounds.”

outer banks shrimping

Daniels is a fourth-generation fisherman out of Wanchese who has caught anything and everything while helping his family and then heading out on his own. Like everyone in the fishing industry, he’s constantly shifted as new regulations emerge from governing agencies and new catches fill local waters.

Approximately 5.9 million pounds of shrimp were caught in North Carolina waters in 2010. Reported by North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries. Contrast that number with the 2019 License-Statistics Annual Report, which counted more than 13 million pounds of NC shrimp caught in 2017.

Local boats are filling their nets more often than not. In 2017, the annual report credited commercial fishermen with more than four million pounds of shrimp from the ocean waters off Cape Hatteras alone.

Outer Banks Shrimping Passion

It’s not easy, of course. And it’s not always lucrative, especially with imported shrimp that flood some markets. But it’s something Daniels enjoys.

“There’s something about going out there, working, filling the boat up, bringing in fresh seafood to the dock,” he says. “Pride’s kind of a strong word, but you really feel like you’re doing something. So there’s the love of that and then you go out there and get that big catch and it’s like, ‘We gotta turn around and do it again!’ – that excitement and drive to always fill the boat up.”

Daniels guesses that’s something most fishermen are born with. He remembers being out with his father, Steve, and grandfather, Charles, on countless trips as a child. Boo’s grandfather caught a 50-yard gillnet that they cleaned up when he was about 12 years old. Boo took it out to the creek and…

“Where I shouldn’t have caught anything, I caught 96 pounds of nice bluefish the first morning,” he says with a laugh. “Truth be known, I set that same net 30 different times out there and probably never caught another fish.”

Now 33 with a wife and two daughters of his own, Daniels has settled into a regular routine on the water. He owns the F/V Handful and goes gillnetting for croaker and bluefish from January to April. Mahi fishing runs from May to June, and then it’s time to get the shrimp trawler ready.

Kenny Daniels owns the F/V Southern Belle. Boo says there’s no relation. Mentioning that number of Daniels families in Wanchese aren’t connected. The duo started shrimping about four years ago when new regulations shut down the blueline tilefish industry.

outer banks shrimping boat

A Day of North Carolina Shrimping

Southern Belle finds shrimp in the sound and the ocean. Brown shrimp – or summer shrimp – can be found in July and August in the sound. Regulations only allow shrimping there from Sunday night to Friday morning, so Boo and his two crew members leave the dock Sunday evening and come back Wednesday night or Thursday: The 48-foot trawler has enough fuel and ice to stay out about three and a half days.

A little bit about North Carolina shrimp. Daniels says that some people claim brown shrimp are sweeter because they’re from the sound, whereas white shrimp are clean and clear and possess less flavor. He’s not so sure about that, but he can say that white shrimp have been far more plentiful in the ocean, especially because they’re in season longer.

From the middle of August through January is when to find white shrimp. And there also aren’t the same regs to worry about as in the sound.

A typical day starts at 4 a.m. with the try-net going out. That 12-foot net runs out for a few minutes before getting pulled in. That’s when we see if it’s time to drop the big net for an hour or two.

“We’ll work all day and then by 9, 10 o’clock at night, we’ll stop and then repeat,” Daniels says.

Unless they don’t have to: On one trip last year, they filled the boat with their 8.500 pounds in a mere 12 hours.

“That’s the exciting part of ocean shrimping, is the potential to strike them big,” Daniels says. “But it doesn’t always work like that. You could go out there and work three days for 2,500 pounds.”

obx shrimping

They sell their catch to Etheridge Seafood in Wanchese. Etheridge processes, grades, boxes, and distributes the shrimp. Daniels would love to say that folks all over the region are eating his North Carolina shrimp. Despite efforts to promote locally caught seafood, he knows that’s not always the case.

“Sometimes they can import cheaper than what we can do,” he says. “The quality is not there, but certain places will buy them just because they can say they have shrimp and some people don’t know the difference, you know?”

Daniels’ family knows. Fried is everybody’s favorite when he’s cooking shrimp he caught. He likes a simple Old Bay and butter recipe, especially for things like shrimp salad.

“I’ve got a little 5-year-old and she’s just now really starting to like shrimp – that’s a good thing, because at first she was like, ‘I don’t know about this,’ ” Daniels says with a laugh. “But I mean, that’s why I like to catch shrimp, because everybody loves shrimp, you know?”

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