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Historic Ocracoke Dock

In the spring of 2006, Ocracoke's watermen united to save their way of life. The last fish house on the island was up for sale and without a spot to unload or get bulk ice, the watermen faced a certain end. Watermen up and down the coast were grappling with development pressures, restrictive fishing regulations, weather complications and tough competition from cheaper imports. Each would need to find a way within their community to persevere.


The Ocracoke watermen saw themselves as responsible stewards, steering clear of mechanical harvest methods and supporting the needs of the environment around them. But they had some big questions to tackle: how could they educate people about what they do? How could they hold onto their traditions, livelihoods, and the maritime culture of Ocracoke? And, how could they join together to purchase the fish house?

The answer was to have the watermen form a non-profit. This way, they could safeguard their mission, pursue grants for the purchase and push for education and research. The Ocracoke Working Watermen’s Association (OWWA) emerged as a project under the non-profit umbrella of the Ocracoke Foundation. The Ocracoke Seafood Company is the base of operations for watermen. The business sells to wholesalers located off the island and has a retail store where fresh, daily catch is available to the public.

Ocracoke Seafood Company Fish House
The Ocracoke Seafood Company
Ocracoke Working Watermen on the docks of Ocracoke


Ocracoke Seafood is a for-profit subsidiary owned by the Ocracoke Foundation, a local 501(c)3 organization, for the benefit of Ocracoke’s Working Watermen (OWWA), who manage the daily operation and develop long range plans. All the profits go back into the business, are used for mission-related expenses and to aid the fishermen in annual profit sharing as members of the co-op. All decisions on how to spend funds are decided by a board of directors, nominated by and voted on by members of the co-op. Having watermen as managers and directors is crucial. Their direct involvement cuts out the need for a middle man and their philosophy is to be the direct link between consumers and fresh seafood.

Today, you can preserve and experience the maritime heritage of Ocracoke through visiting the Fish House and choosing some delicious seafood, freshly delivered to your family by the Watermen.