Monday, August 4, 2014

Summer Rain and Sandy Beaches

It has rained much of the last three days. Rain showers, downpours, thunderstorms, light drizzle, blowing sideways squalls of rain. Sufficient variety to avoid boredom. But it has been a lot of rain. Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Bertha has moved into the Caribbean and is predicted to become a hurricane by mid-week. The current forecast track leads her halfway between North Carolina and Bermuda, safely at sea for those of us along the coast.

Standing on the porch of the clubhouse with an open view of the river, we watched a parade of more than a dozen trawlers pouring out of the harbor and Adams Creek Sunday afternoon. They cannot legally fish between sunset Friday and 1700 Sunday, so they were queuing up for 1700. Some would get a jump on the others by dropping small try nets alongside the hull in a search for where the shrimp had moved since the end of last week. The try nets are small enough to be difficult to see from a distance or a plane, so the early birds are unlikely to be caught.

Unlike the forty-fifty feet wide catch nets, the try nets are only about eight feet across. The trawler will pull the try net for thirty minutes, then check it. If there are fewer than ten shrimp, they keep searching. If there are about thirty, they have found a good place to trawl. If the net comes up with fifty or more, they have found a mother lode of bugs and mark the area on GPS, move a short distance to distract other trawlers, but remain close enough to have the catch nets pulling across the marked area as soon as it is 1700.

We like fresh shrimp, and the river provides. However, trawlers in the river (as elsewhere) catch more than shrimp as the large nets are dragged for miles. They catch whatever is in the river and cannot outrun the net. The by-catch is dumped after the shrimp are sorted. Many trawlers dump their “trash” fish near where the Pamlico River merges with Pamlico Sound. It has become a place where tarpon are found, no doubt feasting on the easy and abundant variety of seafood left by the trawlers. There is a better and more sustainable way. Sadly, as with so many fisheries, the sustainable practices will be discussed most seriously after it is too late for the fish stocks to recover.

Upstream, last week I made my first visit to Pine Cliff Recreation Area near the Cherry Branch ferry terminal.  There is a fine, narrow sandy beach stretching along the southern shore of the Neuse between copper water and the pine forest. A few junipers accent the margin between water and woods. A small black and tannic fresh water creek sneaks from the woods and ripples its way across the sand to join the briny river.

The day was clear and bright, the water blue as the sky. White sails of Lightnings from Camp Seagull floated downwind. A fresh northerly spackled the river with whitecaps as ferries paced back and forth. Broad forks in the sand marked the track of a great blue heron beside the fresh water creek. On the beach, flotsam of mussels, tiny crab shells and clumps of gray marl creased with fossils. Wavelets crumbled to the sand while the underbrush and pines whispered in the steady breeze. Overhead, the shadow of a gull and the roar of a jet from nearby Cherry Point Marine Corps Air Station.

I will return there. Fair winds. 


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