MENHADEN FISH FACTORY
The use of menhaden in Carteret County dates to the 19th century. One story tells that northern soldiers occupying Beaufort saw that the waters were full of menhaden, and stories they told on their return encouraged businessmen in the north to come down and start plant operations here.
In 1881 a menhaden factory was established in Beaufort at Lennoxville, just east of Beaufort, in 1881 by Mr. Charles Pittman (C. P.) Dey, who came to the area from the northeast specifically for the purpose of starting a menhaden factory here. This was a sizable and successful factory, with a large planked platform for drying the fish. Mr. Dey’s boats had access to both the ocean and the sound waters. Several larger vessels (Nellie B. Dey and the C. P. Dey) fished in the ocean, and there were some other boats (i. e., Olympia, Bonito, and Convoy), both sail and motor, that fished in the sound. Mr. Dey became a prominent businessman in Beaufort, becoming involved in several other ventures, as well as performing civic responsibilities for the town.
Also, there were several early menhaden factories on the North River side of Beaufort (i. e., Ralph Howland in 1882 at Steep Point, Jones and Caffrey in 1885 at Lennoxville) that had boats fishing in the surrounding waters. Mr. Howland’s factory had a steam boiler, hydraulic press, steam pump, and used purse boats with seines. The factory was capable of processing 2,000 barrels of fish per day. The letterhead of his business showed Ralph Howland as a “manufacturer of fish scrap and oil, dealer in fish and general merchandise and commission merchant.”
The North Carolina menhaden fishery flourished up into the late 1960s. Landings in the state accounted for about 70 percent of the South Atlantic fishery and about 20 percent of the total annual catch. At its height there were 7 major reduction factories in the state; 4 in Beaufort, 2 in Morehead City, and 1 in Southport. In the 1970s, however, the state’s menhaden fishery began to decline due to a reduction in the numbers of fish and competition from foreign sources. The last factory, Beaufort Fisheries on Taylors Creek, closed its doors in 2005. The Boathouse at Front Street Village was built in its former location.
Menhaden was a year-round fishery, and people could often smell the fish being reduced in town, calling it “the smell of money”. Reduction of menhaden generates three products: fish meal (presscake), condensed fish solubles, and oil. These are used as fertilizers, animal feeds, and human food supplements and in industrial applications.