PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — The ship is coming in for Virginia Beach watermen who ply the Atlantic Ocean in search of sweet green-tail shrimp all the way to the North Carolina line. The experimental shrimp season, scheduled to end on New Year’s Eve, has been extended to Jan. 31 for Virginia Beach-based watermen.
“There’s a lot of shrimp still around. No one has been to January yet but I have a feeling if the weather stays like this, I have the feeling there’s going to be a lot of shrimp throughout most of January,” said Captain Pat Foster, who operates the Alanna Kay out of Rudee Inlet.
The state’s shrimp experiment started in 2017 after watermen started to notice an increase in the number of shrimp getting snagged in their fishing nets.
One waterman was granted a permit. Today, eight watermen in Virginia Beach and two on the Eastern Shore have permits that are handed out in a lottery system.
Pat Geer is the fisheries manager for the Virginia Marine Resources Commission. His crews often travel with watermen to monitor the catch and to observe operations.
Last year, Virginia Beach watermen netted 65,000 pounds of the succulent green-tail shrimp. Since October, they’ve caught 182,000 pounds of shrimp that generated a half-million dollars in revenue. State officials say shrimp lovers can thank global warming.
“The species that we normally had in our waters for decades are moving northward and species like shrimp that are typically found south of here are showing up in the Chesapeake Bay,” said Geer.
After a good day at sea, Virginia Beach watermen bring their catch to pop-up markets along the shore of Rudee Inlet. Handmade signs are propped along Winston Salem Avenue with directions to parking lot markets. The shrimp, heads, tails and all, sell for $5 a pound — that’s a fraction of the price found at local supermarkets.
Geer says more than 90%of shrimp sold in the U.S. is farm-raised overseas, treated with antibiotics, frozen, and shipped to the states. Fresh Virginia Beach shrimp is all-natural and because it’s caught daily. There is no fishy smell. Green tails are tender and have a distinctly sweet flavor.
Calling the experiment a success, Geer says next year the state next will decide whether to turn the test into a regulated industry.
This transition will include more watermen and possibly a longer season and a wider area in which to search for shrimp. Currently, the season starts in October for an area that spans Dam Neck to the North Carolina line.
Watermen told 10 On Your Side they hope the state will extend the region north to Cape Henry.
State officials say a larger fishery will provide opportunities for additional income for watermen who struggled to stay afloat during the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic.
“So many things have hit these fishermen. They pretty much shut down in March as [the pandemic] affected the restaurants,” said Geer.
Watermen says regulations will offer stability as watermen set a new course for 2021.
“It’s something we can depend on now every year instead of wishful thinking. If it’s regulated and we have it and solidly in the books for shrimping every year, then I don’t have to think about what are we going to do in the winter,” said Foster.