The North Carolina Visitor Center




Menhaden Fishing

Raising the Story of Menhaden Fishing

Saturday, February 27 (9 am – 4 pm including lunch)

Core Sound Waterfowl Museum & Heritage Center

Harkers Island, North Carolina



It has been five years since Beaufort Fisheries on the Beaufort waterfront closed its doors.  But the legacy doesn’t stop there. The story of menhaden fishing in Beaufort, NC is being “raised” once again through community meetings, on-going interviews, middle school projects, research and a day-long celebration of the men and women of this industry.

 “Raising the Story of Menhaden Fishing” will be presented on Saturday, February 27th at the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum & Heritage Center on Harkers Island.  Captains, crew, pilots, seine menders, and factory workers will be on hand to share stories, photos, and answer questions about their experience in this unique fishery. A People’s Gallery of family photographs from the industry is being organized for display during the celebration allowing every family to honor their loved ones who have worked in this industry. The Menhaden Chanteymen will perform work songs that crewmen used to sing to raise heavy nets of fish before new technology made chanteys obsolete in the workplace. 

Helping organize the event is a group of industry members who have been working with researcher Barbara Garrity-Blake in an effort to keep the history, accomplishments, and stories of the menhaden fishery alive. In partnership with the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum and Heritage Center, the menhaden group submitted a proposal to the North Carolina Humanities Council, and was one of nine projects accepted statewide. “Just as it has always been a group effort to raise the fish,” Garrity-Blake said, “we are pulling together to raise the story of menhaden fishing so that the legacy of the industry is not forgotten.” 

Local menhaden companies once provided hundreds of jobs in Beaufort and surrounding areas with numerous factories and vessels, including dozens of steamers that came from Virginia to work the lucrative fall fishery. Grocery stores, hardware stories, gasoline docks, and department stores all benefited from the influx of people and money during menhaden’s fall fishing.  The smell of "shad" cooking on Lennoxville Road was recognized throughout Carteret County as the smell of money that was an important part of this county’s commercial fishing industry.

Menhaden fishing was also a part of the culture and community that has not been forgotten locally. “I miss the fish factory. I miss the money. I miss all the guys hollering and cursing each other. We got along pretty good down there" said Theodius Goode in one of the recent interviews that has been part of this project. Dr. David Cecelski, noted North Carolina historian, will also be part of the day’s program to discuss the cultural and historical role of menhaden in North Carolina’s history.

“Raising the Story” is a year-long project, and the February 27th event will showcase what has been done so far, including oral histories, occupational profiles, a photo essay exhibition by Scott Taylor, and video interviews by Beaufort Middle School students. Joe Smith of NOAA will present an overview of the menhaden industry, and historian Steve Goodwin will discuss the history of fish factories Down East.

Those who caught the fish and processed fishmeal and oil will answer questions about their personal experiences in a roundtable discussion, and the Menhaden Chanteymen will bring to the program the importance of the old worksongs.  As Ernest Davis, one of the original Chanteymen explains, “Singing gave you more spirit and power to pull, raise your fish better. If you didn’t sing, you wouldn’t get them.”

A highlight of the day will be the People’s Gallery where families in the menhaden fishery will share photos of generations of industry work.   Those with framed photos or related artifacts are encouraged to bring them to the museum to be part of this exhibition.  For more information about your family pictures being part of the People’s Gallery presentation please contact Pam Morris at the Museum at 728-1500 before February 15thSpace is limited and all photos to be submitted for the exhibition must be brought to the museum by February 15. 

This project is made possible in part by a grant from the North Carolina Humanities Council a statewide nonprofit and affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.



Scott6.jpg:  Dr. Barbara Garrity-Blake sharing a laugh with Mary and Primrose Jones of Adams Creek, NC. Primrose worked as a cook on menhaden vessels his entire life.   (Scott Taylor photo.)

Menhadensept1109:  The next generation of Menhaden Chanteymen sing at Beaufort’s 300th Anniversary in September 2009.  (Barbara Garrity-Blake photo.)

Goodwinphoto:   “Raising the Nets”  Crew of the King Fisher raising the seine off Cape Lookout, c. 1950 (Steve Goodwin collection)