Harkers Island , NC Occupations

The Harkers Island Fishermen

David Yeomans


After everyone had left Diamond City and Shackleford Banks around 1900 and moved to Harkers Island the fishing crews had to get re-established. Some of the crews went over to Cape Lookout and built small shanties, one for sleeping and cooking and one for storing the fish. Mullet fishing was the only type of fishing done then because there was no refrigeration for other type of fish. The mullets were split, washed and salted in barrels.

Crews were organized by family, usually including the father as the leader and his sons (sometimes nephews, other close kin, or neighbors) as the crew. Crews were referred to by the leader's (father's) name.

The Crews at Cape Lookout
John Rose Crew (Cape Hills) - Thomas, George, Joey, Daniel and John William
Eugene Yeomans Crew (Hook of Cape) - Walter, Dan, Luther, Fernie and Kendall
Sam E. Willis Crew - Kelly, Sammie, Luther, Ira and Eddie
George Rose Crew - Telford, Ed, Dallas, and Cletus
Alfonso Guthrie Crew - Allen, Billie, and Louie; Henry Guthrie and his boys, Johnnie, David and Odell

The Crews at Shackleford Banks
Martin Guthrie Crew - Clayton and Ernest
Calvin F. Willis Crew - Rennie, Dannie (Dankie) and Calvin
Charlie Hancock Crew - Louie, Charlie William, Sterling, Louie Hallis, Creston (Sno' Ball), and Ralph
Tom Martin Guthrie Crew - Vannie and Willie; Hedrick Moore and his boys, Allen, Aaron, Tyre, and Alfred
Joe Lewis Crew (Mullet Pond) - Fred, Charlie and Joe Lane
Tyre Moore Crew - Abram, Irvin, Eugene, George and Hedrick of Marshallberg

These crews were all engaged in mullet fishing during the fall. The mullet would go out of the northern inlets during the fall and come around Cape Point and go into the Hook of the Cape and along Shackleford Banks where the fishermen would be waiting for them.

The mullet fishermen used seines approximately 150 to 2009 yards long, rolled off the pilot boat. Catching the mullet was the easiest part, then the work had just begun. Cleaning the mullet, washing and salting them in barrels would go on for days. The mullets were sold in the markets of Washington (NC), New Bern, and Greenville. Fish barrels were carried there in sharpies by sail since there were no motor boats at that time.

Sometimes the fishermen would trade some of the mullets for corn and bring the corn here to the Island and grind it into meal. There was a mill at Harkers Point and the old mill stones are still there.

An economic survey of North Carolina in 1907 reported that the common or "jumping" mullet was the most important food fish of the Beaufort waters. There was a demand in North Carolina and neighboring states for a cheap fish and mullet being of good quality and very abundant, it filled this demand.

A barrel of mullets weighing approximately 100 lbs. of fish sold for $3.00. The mullet fishing usually lasted through November.

Some years later an ice plant was built at Beaufort and the blue fish and mackerel fishing began. Those engaged in this endeavor were Mart Lewis, Telford Willis, McKinley Lewis, Thomas Lewis, Ivey Gaskill, Howard Gaskill, Adrian Willis, Jimmy Styron, John L. Willis, and John Lewis. All of these fishermen sold their fish at Beaufort to a Mr. Will Potter. There were no fish houses on the Island at this time. These fishermen also engaged in mullet fishing during the fall.

The places where fishermen worked were also given names pertaining to the different types of fish caught there.

Spot Hauls - Smyrna, Battery Hole, Molly Bells, Brick Yard, Horse Marsh, North River, Polly Wags, Bottle Rum, Island Channel, Middle Ground, Hook, and Tom Martin's

Setting off for Spot - Cape Shore, Sware Pole Hill, Foot of the Rocks, Billy's Hill, Tom Martin's, Mart Guthrie's, Charlie Hancock's, Rennie and Danky's Place

Speckled Trout Spots (Rod and Reel) - Hammock Slough, Whitehurst Island, Short Turn, Billy's Hill, Hook, The Rocks, Inlet Rocks

Mullet - Mullet Shoal, Hammock Shoal, Horse Island, Whitehurst Island, Mullet Pond, Cape Shore, Shackleford Banks

Names of sets for channel net shrimp - Gold Mine, 44 Beacon, 42 Beacon, Bridge Set, Locust Tree, Shep's Stake, Front Set, Turkle Reef, Abe's Lump, Possum Hole, High Hill, Ed Moore's Point, Gut Gibble Shoal, Island Channel, John Gaskill's Shoal, Point of Shoal Rip, Drain, Short Turn.

The first fish house on Harkers Island was built by H. B. Hunter in 1929. Only clams and mullet were bought there at first. There are many seafood businesses now in operation of the Island handling every type of seafood and shellfish. Shrimp, croakers, speckled trout and the roe mullet are the principal money makers for the fishermen.

Commercial fishing is still going on. The torch has been passed from these old timers now gone to a new generation of their offspring using modern equipment. Where the old timers rowed and sailed, the new use boats that go fifty miles per hour. I am sure if they could see us now they would say, "What has this generation come to?"

Reprinted from “The Mailboat,” Vol. 2 No. 3

From "Our Shared Past" prepared for the Diamond City & Ca'e Bankers Reunion, August 1999 as a collection of writings, research and recollections to tell the story of the Banks communities.
Copyright 1995, Core Sound Waterfowl Museum
All rights reserved.

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