VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — Back in the 1990s, watermen started noticing shrimp were getting caught in their gill nets in waters just off Virginia Beach. In response, the Virginia Marine Resources Commission in 2018 issued free shrimp permits to a couple of watermen in Virginia Beach who would haul in 300 pounds of shrimp on a good day.

Today, 12 watermen, with permits, work the waters for shrimp and on a good day, the haul is more than a thousand pounds. 100 people applied for 2020 permits but only 12 permits were issued to watermen in Virginia Beach and the Eastern Shore in a lottery system.

Shrimping is also a game of chance.

“One day I think I caught 16 shrimp, two days later [I caught] 1700 pounds,” said Captain Pat Foster who joined the experiment this year. “They are more plentiful this year. I don’t know if it’s global warming. It seems that everything is moving north,” said Foster.

Pat Geer, the Chief of Fisheries Management for VMRC confirms because of warmer ocean water the state has seen exponential growth in the amount of shrimp off the coast of Virginia Beach and the Eastern Shore. Conversely, fish such as summer flounder have moved farther north. Geer is pleased with the experiment which is in its second year. ” It’s been very successful so far- we want to grow this industry slowly and carefully,” said Geer.

Last year Virginia watermen hauled in 60-thousand pounds of green tail white shrimp which is known for its subtle and sweet flavor. So far this season, which runs from Oct. 1 through New Year’s Eve, 72,000 pounds of shrimp have been netted off the coast of the resort city.

Todd Brown with a two fisted catch
(Photo Courtesy: Ryan Benzel)

Captain Pat Foster, of Virginia Beach Shrimp, spent 20-thousand dollars to modify the Alanna Kay to catch shrimp with a 16-foot net that’s allowed in the water in 30-minute intervals per haul. So far, Foster, who has worked the waters since 1996, says the investment has paid off.

Captain Pat Foster at the helm
(Photo Courtesy: Ryan Benzel)

State officials say the shrimp experiment generates 350-500-thousand dollars a year. Once shrimping becomes a regulated industry, it could become a multi-million dollar industry. Waterman Bobby Crisher says look no further than North Carolina for evidence.

“One shrimp trawler in North Carolina drags more nets than all ten of us[ Virginia Beach watermen] put together. We drag 16 feet they drag four 55 foot nets with one trawler,” said Crisher, who was the first waterman in Virginia to obtain a permit for commercial shrimping.

The commerce side of the business is fueled by social media, word of mouth, and handmade signs that are propped along the entrance to the Virginia Beach Fishing Center and along the 300 block of Winston Salem Avenue. Just behind Big Sam’s restaurant, the Alanna Kay docks around 3:30 pm, almost daily, to customers who are waiting with coolers and ice.

Marty Nopper, a regular, likes to cook a pound and then freeze a pound. His post-Thanksgiving meal is Italian inspired.

“Shrimp and linguini pasta tonight- this is the only place where I buy my shrimp,” said Nopper.

Pierside shrimp along Rudee Inlet sells for $5.00 a pound. North Carolina shrimp, heads off, sells for $12.99 at a nearby grocery store. Captain Foster offers a video tutorial for anyone who has never had the pleasure of beheading the coveted crustacean.

Local shrimpers hope the state will expand the fishery and the length of the season. Currently, the fishery is limited to an area between Dam Neck Rd south to the North Carolina line and within three miles from the shore.

“There’s plenty up north [to Cape Henry] that we want fish now- if they expanded that that would be great,” said Captain Foster.

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