If you buy some fresh local shrimp in our markets this winter, chances are they arrived via Denny McCuiston.
Born in Southport, but raised in Burlington, Denny spent his childhood summers exploring the waters and rivers of the Cape Fear region.
“I came back to Southport every summer,” he explains. “And when I graduated from high school I went to school at Cape Fear Technical Institute (now Cape Fear Community College) for Marine Technology.”
His love of the salt life led him to a career as a full time fisherman, clammer and ultimately – a shrimper.
Denny’s been shrimping area waters for the past forty years.
“I cut my teeth out on the Cape Fear River,” he says. “That’s one of the biggest changes I’ve seen over the years. Back then – in the seventies – there used to be 50 to 75 small boats out there. Now, most of the time, I’m by myself.”
He says that cheap farmed shrimp, exported from places such as China or India, has had an impact on the local shrimper.
According to Consumer Reports, 94 percent of the shrimp consumed by Americans each year come from countries such as India, Indonesia and Thailand. Because the imported shrimp is usually farmed in crowded and unsanitary environments, producers are using high levels of pesticides, antibiotics and other chemicals in order to prevent disease. Residues of these toxins end up in the flesh of the shrimp, posing threats to consumer health.
Eating responsibly sourced, wild shrimp is recommended by health officials, but ever- changing state regulations continue to challenge fishermen, like Denny, in their quest to provide local shrimp.
In November the North Carolina Wildlife Federation submitted a petition to the state Marine Fisheries Commission asking for stricter regulations for shrimp trawlers operating in coastal sounds.
The proposed regulations would reduce the size of the nets, limit how long nets could be pulled in the water, permit shrimping only three days per week and eliminate night-time shrimping.
Though the Wildlife Federation says that the regulations are aimed at protecting fish nurseries, Denny believes there are better ways to eliminate by-catch than the far- reaching regulations.
“Fighting regulations and petitions – it’s just a never-ending thing,” he says. “And, now, the biggest thing is whether or not they are going to allow us to continue to shrimp.”