Poached Oysters No Delicacy for Governor Fowle

A Carteret County oyster farmer. Image from the N.C. Museum of History.

A Carteret County oyster farmer. Image from the N.C. Museum of History.

On January 21, 1891, Gov. Daniel Fowle declared “war” on northern fishermen poaching on North Carolina’s deep-water oyster beds. The oyster “pirates” had already depleted the Chesapeake Bay’s rich oyster beds during the 1880s. In an effort to meet seafood canneries’ growing demands, they had moved their dredging operations into North Carolina.

In 1888, several dredging vessels from Virginia had gathered thousands of bushels of oysters weekly from Hyde County’s waters. The following year, North Carolina banned non-resident dredging, but there was little enforcement. In 1890, Carteret, Hyde and Pamlico Counties tried unsuccessfully to oust the oyster pirates using local patrol boats.

Then, in early 1891, a small fleet of illegal oyster schooners were reported in the oyster beds of Pamlico Sound and off the coasts of Hyde and Dare counties. Governor Fowle and the General Assembly quickly passed legislation to stop the out-of-state dredgers and halt the shipping of North Carolina oysters to northern markets.

Fowle sent an armed patrol boat into Pamlico Sound to seize or sink any illegal oyster dredgers. Within three months, the oyster “war” was over.  Only the captain and crew of one ship were ever taken to trial.

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