At the OBX Seafood Festival, commercial fishing takes center stage

By on October 16, 2022

It was a busy day for the nine restaurants that served the public at the Outer Banks Seafood Festival. (Photos by Kip Tabb)
Captain Ben Brown of Wanchese standing in front of his restored shad boat Miss Marsha. (Kip Tabb)
With an estimated crowd at 10,000, the lines for food were long but manageable. (Photos by Kip Tabb)
Hailing from Fredericksburg, and a number of Hampton Roads communities, the Etheridge family has made the Outer Banks Seafood Festival an annual event. (Photos by Kip Tabb)
After a 20 minute sound check delay, the Main Event, the day’s headliner, performed the smooth sounds of the hits of the 70s and 80s. (Photos by Kip Tabb)
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With bright sunshine and temperatures in the low 70s, it would be hard to imagine better conditions for the 10th Annual Outer Banks Seafood Festival on Saturday, Oct. 15. Held at the Nags Head Event Site, the festival seemed to bring out much of what is best about the Outer Banks.

There are always a good number of local residents at the Seafood Festival, but even in casual conversation, it was apparent that many of those on hand were from outside the area— a number from the from Richmond area or Hampton Roads, VA. There were also couples from Maryland and South Carolina. A number of the out-of-town visitors indicated that the festival had become an annual reason to visit.

The food from the nine participating restaurants was outstanding, the music great and there were more artist and craft vendors than ever before. But most importantly, it was a day to celebrate the history and traditions of the commercial fishing fleet and how generations of families have brought fresh seafood to restaurants and family tables for more than 150 years.

Captain Ben Brown of Wanchese was standing in front of his restored shad boat, Miss Marsha. “I named her after my grandmother,” he said. “Her family grew up across the sound and they used these boats a lot.”

The shad boat is the official state boat of North Carolina. First built in the 1870s by Manteo boatbuilder George Washington Creef, with its sharp prow and wide bottom, it was the ideal fishing craft for the shallow waters of the state’s sounds.

There are very few, if any, shad boats still being used for commercial fishing. Brown’s Miss Marsha was built in Hatteras in the 1980s and was used for commercial fishing for a number of years. He restored the boat and is hoping to take people out on the sounds in it to give them an opportunity to participate in a hands-on experience of the history of the Outer Banks.

“I use it pretty much to put a demonstration out there of the history of the sounds and history of commercial fishing,” he said.

Over in the interview tent, the crews of the reality fishing show, Wicked Tuna, were on the stage, explaining a selection process that is somewhat of a mystery — noting that they often didn’t know until three weeks before filming begins who will be part of the show.

While there were nine restaurants participating at the event, Outer Banks Chamber of Commerce Board Chair Richard Hess said they were hoping for a few more, and he cited a familiar reason why some restaurants could not make it. “We wanted twelve this year and we got nine,” he said. “They’re just struggling with staffing.”

In spite of staffing problems, the chefs were able to creates some very good and innovative dishes. The Chef’s Choice went to MahiMahi’s shrimp empanada and Noosa Beach Grill took home the People’s Choice award for a seafood bruschetta.

For the Chamber of Commerce, which organized the event, things turned out the way they had hoped. The layout for the event was changed from previous years, with more room for the artisan vendors, which Hess said was necessary, noting that, “We had a lot more vendors than last year.”

Hess added that one of the most important changes was putting the commercial fishing demonstration by the gate so that as soon as people came in, they would see someone working on a pound net, or have a chance to speak to someone about what it is like to earn a living on the water.

The Chamber also created a new way to help the commercial fishing industry, something Chamber of Commerce President Karen Brown drew particular attention to.

“We began an endowment at the [Outer Banks] Community Foundation this year, and the proceeds from the festival will go into that fund for the…whole industry,” she said.




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