Locking Horns With the Future: A New Generation of Fishermen


By Susan West
Photos by Daniel Pullen
Outer Banks Magazine (2014)

Though commercial fishing is an uncertain bet, a new generation of Hatteras watermen is willing to take the chance.

The headlines tell the story of an American industry on the brink. Pounded by tightening regulations, escalating expenses, stagnant or declining fish prices and shrinking working waterfronts, the future of commercial fishing seems wrapped in a seismic wave of uncertainty.

Yet even as old fishermen lament the passing of the industry they have known and loved, a new generation of commercial fishermen has emerged in places like Hatteras Island.

These younger men aren’t afraid to lock horns with the future, adopting innovative ways to run businesses that provide fresh, wild-caught seafood and scaling their operations to meet regulatory, environmental, and economic challenges.

Jeremy O’Neal is 28 years old and the father of two little girls. He started fishing shortly after graduating from Cape Hatteras Secondary School when he was offered a job as mate on the Miss Megan, a gillnet boat working out of Hatteras village.

Last year O’Neal bought his own boat, the Goose, a 25 foot downeaster that he uses to gillnet spanish mackerel, bluefish, dogfish, king mackerel, croaker, and sea mullet in the Atlantic and in Pamlico Sound.

“I had been wanting a boat for a long time and had been thinking I’d go the big boat way, but then I realized I’d have more options for keeping my expenses lower with a smaller boat that I could always fish by myself,” he explains, as he threads lead weights onto rope for the gillnet he is hanging in a work area under his house in Hatteras village. The Goose is docked behind the house on a canal that is a short run to the inlet.

“It’s all on me, whether I’m successful or not,” he muses, acknowledging that this is the attraction of fishing for a living.

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