Record shrimp haul off shores of Outer Banks

Daily Press (Sunday) - - Local News - By Jeff Hamp­ton Staff writer

WANCHESE, N.C. — South of the Vir­ginia bor­der, the shores off Corolla have be­come an Outer Banks hot spot to catch win­ter shrimp.

Trawlers have clus­tered there within three miles of shore in re­cent weeks, each bring­ing in as much as 20,000 pounds of the del­i­cacy per trip.

Last week, the “Capt. Ralph” hauled in 30,000 pounds, the most ever for the crew, said Ash­ley O’Neal, man­ager of O’Neal’s Sea Har­vest.

In the past, 12,000 pounds was a good catch no mat­ter where it came from, he said.

“This 30,000-pound stuff is un­heard of,” O’Neal said. “We are see­ing a lot of shrimp.”

In 2016, North Carolina shrimpers har­vested a record 13.2 mil­lion pounds, worth $28.2 mil­lion. It was a 45-per­cent in­crease over the pre­vi­ous year, ac­cord­ing to state sta­tis­tics. The record fell again in 2017 with a har­vest of 13.9 mil­lion pounds worth $29.6 mil­lion. The 10-year av­er­age is just short of eight mil­lion pounds. Most of the catch comes from es­tu­ar­ies like the Pam­lico Sound.

Shrimp con­sump­tion in the United States reached a new record in 2017 at 4.4 pounds a per­son per year, mak­ing it Amer­ica’s fa­vorite seafood, ac­cord­ing to NOAA Fish­eries. More than 90 per­cent of what’s eaten in the U.S. comes from for­eign mar­kets raised on farms.

Wild white shrimp live less than two years and is con­sid­ered an an­nual crop.

Sara Mirabilio, a fish­eries ex­ten­sion spe­cial­ist with the North Carolina Sea Grant, said peo­ple re­ported see­ing the shrimp­ing ves­sels from shore and won­dered what they were.

“It’s kind of new, and it’s kind of re­lated to the wa­ter warm­ing,” Mirabilio said. “Ev­ery­body’s chas­ing them north.”

Re­cent win­ters have gen­er­ally been warmer, send­ing the shrimp far­ther north than usual, said Chris Ste­wart, a bi­ol­o­gist with the North Carolina Divi­sion of Ma­rine Fish­eries.

A NOAA buoy off Duck showed daily ocean wa­ter tem­per­a­tures to be about the same in Jan­uary 2010 as in Jan­uary 2018. Records go­ing fur­ther back were not read­ily avail­able.

There could be other rea­sons for the shrimp surge. More may be com­ing south from the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay, Mirabilio said. Heav­ier rain­fall may have made in­land wa­ters fresher, prompt­ing the ma­tur­ing shrimp to seek salt­wa­ter sooner.

Or, the bounty could be by chance.

“Maybe they’ve been up there all along and we just didn’t know about it,” O’Neal said.

Trawlers catch three species in North Carolina — pink shrimp typ­i­cally in the spring, brown in the sum­mer and green-tail or white later in the fall. The catch off Corolla was the lat­ter.

The prawns spawn off­shore, yield­ing mil­lions of lar­vae that catch a ride on cur­rents to in­land es­tu­ar­ies where they ma­ture. When they are grown, they mi­grate back to the sea to start all over again. Jeff Hamp­ton, 252-491-5272, jeff.hamp­[email protected]­lo­ton­

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