It’s the middle of June, and Buddy Davis’ trawler is tied up at
the family’s fish house on the banks of the New River in Sneads
There’s plenty to do around the dock — boats to paint, nets
and equipment to repair or replace, general maintenance to
make sure everything is operating like it’s supposed to when it’s
time to go out. Davis is 77, but he still does much of the work
“From daylight to dusk, he’s finding something to do,” says
Stevie Davis, one of Buddy’s three shrimping sons.
But it’s not where he wants to be. At this time last year —
and the year before that, and the year before that — he was out
shrimping. But in the early summer of 2018, it’s not worth leav-ing
“We hadn’t done nothing here,” he says. “It’s been 6 months
since we even caught any shrimp.”
An unusually cold winter is the culprit.
“The shrimp can’t stand real cold water, and we had below-freezing
temperatures here for over a week, around December I
think it was,” he says. “Them big white shrimp, they just move
Davis has been shrimping “since I was big enough to walk.”
“I’ve been going ever since I was 7 or 8 years old, I’d imagine,”
he says. “Daddy used to shrimp, and I’d go with him.”
He’s itching to get back on the water, but when you’ve been
shrimping as long as he has, you learn to take a philosophical view.
“Some years are good, some years are not so good,” he says. “But
you’ve got to have a little bad with the good to appreciate it. You
can’t have good all the time.”
That’s the life of a shrimper. Some years the nets are filled with
the little critters. Others, they prove hard to get.
“There’s no guarantee,” says John Norris, who has shrimped for
about 60 years. “I had a guy come to me one time looking for a job.
I said, ‘Yeah, I can use you.’ He said, ‘Can you guarantee me $250 a
week?’ I said, ‘Bud, I can’t even guarantee you’ll get back.’ He didn’t
want no job after that.”
No shrimp, of course, means no money. The key to surviving the
lean times is to take advantage of the good times.
“You’ve got to be prepared for the bad times when you’re a fisher-man,”
Davis says. “You can’t make money one day and spend it the
next. You’ve got to save a little bit for bad times.”
It helps that the last few years have been very good.
“We were fortunate. We had three of the best years there’s ever
been,” says Liston Norris, John’s son. “I’ve not been at it as long as
him, but it’s unheard of. Just shrimping year-round. The amount of
shrimp we caught has been unheard of.”
But early this season, instead of being out on the water, the boats
remained tied up along the New River, up into Wheelers Creek,
and around Poverty Point. That’s where the fish houses are located:
Davis Seafood, Mitchell Seafood, and B.F. Millis & Sons.
Davis Seafood was still in port in May, but Sneads Ferry shrimpers like Jeffrey Frye and Brent Bailey, offloading one of the first hauls of
the season from the Elaina Nicole at Mitchell Seafood, were able to start the season in early July.