by Barbara Ann Weibel at Hole In The Donut
As an inveterate beach bum, I spent most of my leisure time at the shore during the ten plus years I lived on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Over the years I began to notice that, although the beaches themselves are quite similar, different beaches attracted different crowds. Being close to rental cottages, shops and restaurants, “town” beaches were more popular with vacationers. Locals, on the other hand, usually sought out the more remote deserted beaches.
There is really no mystery about this segregation; locals simply needed a break from tourists on their days off, and I was no different. My desire to avoid the hordes led me to what ultimately became my favorite escape on the Outer Banks, Coquina Beach. I adored Coquina for its miles of wave-drenched golden sands, its towering dunes, and its gracefully swaying Sea Oats. These reasons alone would have been sufficient to make it my favorite, but in addition to offering beauty and solitude, Coquina also provided a unique glimpse into the rapidly vanishing commercial fishing industry.
Day after day, in good weather and bad, commercial fishermen spread nets out in long lines on the hard-packed sand, checking for tears and tangles. After passing inspection, the nets are loaded onto small hand-built wooden dorys, which fight their way through surf and drop them in calmer waters 50 to 75 feet from shore. Later in the day, these same boats retrieve the ends of the nets, motor to shore, and attach them to pickup trucks.
I vividly recall the first time I witnessed this event. In low gear, trucks strained to drag the heavily laden nets from the ocean. They emerged slowly, full of sea critters. Some I recognized – wriggling grouper, drum, mackerel, trout, and flounder were quickly extracted and tossed into truck beds. Others species – like the Horseshoe Crabs – I had never seen before. These giant prehistoric-looking creatures were trash to the fishermen, who cared only about removing them without causing further damage to the nets. Unfortunately, the preferred method consisted of tearing the pincer/legs off the crab’s bodies, rather than gently untangling them. Even more shocking was the huge shark thrashing around in the final length of netting pulled from the sea. All of these sea creatures were caught just feet from shore, in waters where not long before, I had been swimming! Notwithstanding second thoughts about the wisdom of splashing around in those murky Atlantic waters, I felt privileged to witness this time honored, yet rapidly disappearing tradition. This group of beach fishermen may be the last generation to practice this trade.
Coquina Beach is located just south of the town of Nags Head, in the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. The Outer Banks is a favorite vacation destination of residents all up and down the Eastern Seaboard, as it offers a wealth of outdoor acivities and historic attracions, as well a a full range of accomodations.
All photos courtesy of BOBXNC @ Flickr.com