Gone Fishing pt 4: The Shrimp Industry

Wilmington, NC – All this month WHQR has been looking at North Carolina's coastal fishing culture. In our final installment, WHQR's Catherine Welch checks in on North Carolina's shrimp industry.

Tucked away off the main road sits a modest wooden waterfront building with the sign Snead's Ferry Fish & Seafood Wholesale and Retail painted near the roof line. At the water's edge fisherman Mack Liverman's crew hoses down The Lady Ellen a 53-foot shrimp boat named after his wife.

Liverman's lived off the water his whole life and on this day he sits on a picnic table in the parking lot smoking a cigarette and mourning the demise of the working waterfront.

You've got too much development, everything's turning to yachts, condos no place to tie your boats. This place here, this is going to be the last year it's open. Selling off, development.

Access to the water is a whole other issue - for Liverman other threats include rising fuel costs and the dropping price of shrimp. Liverman says 40 years ago he paid 12-cents a gallon for gas and got 30-cents a pound for shrimp. But nowadays he's paying $2.25 for a gallon of gas and getting 55-cents a pound for shrimp.

You always think next week or next month or next year is going to be better than last one was, that's the way it is with fishing or shrimping.

Did you raise a family on it?

Oh yeah, we do all right. We have a place to stay, food to eat, automobile to drive. You can't do much better.

The tide turned for North Carolina's shrimp industry seven years ago when imports from Southeast Asia and Central America started to flood the U.S. market, sending domestic prices into a sharp downward spiral.

Numbers out of the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries show that while fisherman caught nearly the same amount of shrimp in 2001 as they did in 2006, the value of that 2006 catch dropped by 23%

It's frustrating from my perspective b/c from we've always dealt with open and closing based on abundance and size of shrimp

That's Rich Carpenter District Manager for the Division of Marine Fisheries.

But then you get these external factors that has far more impact on our shrimp fishery than anything that we've ever done.

Carpenter says noT only has the price of shrimp dropped but the number of North Carolinians out catching the shrimp has been cut in half since 2000.

Shrimping is a living that runs from May to Thanksgiving. Liverman is now gearing up his nets for brown shrimp and getting ready for days that start at 2:30 in the morning and on a good day will end at 6 o'clock in the evening.

A minimum wage job pays about the same thing we do, we'll do it in six months time instead of a year's time.

Liverman's two daughters work on his crew and his two grandsons help in the summer. His oldest grandson wants to take over. But Liverman's discouraging him, pushing a college education instead. He worries though about who will be around in a decade to harvest the shrimp.

I think you're going to have one or two that's going to hold out for a while. People that's had their children raised up in the business, their grandchildren. You know you'll have some, but as far as the way it's been, that's out.

And in the future Liverman jokes residents and tourists will get their Carolina shrimp from other countries and not taste the difference.