Sure, there are plenty of fish in the sea. But for many Americans, the word “seafood” means just one thing: shrimp.
A complete schedule is available at the end of this article.
As a nation, our consumption of the crustaceans has averaged an annual 4.08 pounds per person from 2002-2010 according to National Marine Fisheries Service numbers, well ahead of the 2.8 pounds for canned tuna, which ranks in second place.
If Onslow County couple Matt and Theresa Mitchell have their way, they’ll put a noticeable dent in that statistic. The owners of T’s Cafe and Mitchell Seafood plan to serve up as much as 5,600 pounds of shrimp this weekend at the 44th annual Sneads Ferry Shrimp Festival.
In 2013, the Mitchells, whose businesses are Snead Ferry proper, won a three-year contract to cater the festival after the event had earned grumbles from both organizers and attendees in past years over questions of seafood origin.
“It was a big complaint around the community. Last year was the first time it’s been local people for years and years,” food vendor coordinator Howard Orr said. “It’s made a big improvement in the quality of the meal, and the fact that Matt has two shrimp boats, we know that these shrimp are local. If people haven’t been there in a couple years, it would behoove them to come and take a look.”
It’s no wonder the Mitchells landed the deal. In launching their restaurant seven years ago, the two made a commitment to honor area waterways.
“When my husband and I opened the cafe, that was our main goal,” Theresa Mitchell said. “Come hell or high water, we were only going to sell local shrimp.”
The festival is a major affair for the town of about 2,600 residents. Drawing roughly 10,000 visitors, the festival’s main attraction — for the grown-ups, anyway — is the shrimp plates, prepared fried, grilled or boiled.
“The shrimp dinner is served inside the community center where it’s air conditioned, so they can enjoy a nice meal,” Orr said.
Vendors on the grounds will provide barbecue, turkey legs, funnel cakes and other fair favorites, while kids can enjoy a parade, inflatables, carnival rides and, perhaps the festival’s entertainment highlight, alligator wrestling with Jimmy Riffle of Discovery Channel’s “Gator Boys.”
For those with a competitive streak, a shrimp-heading contest offers a unique shot at glory, as well as gift certificates to area seafood houses. Beginning at 1 p.m. Saturday, the competition pits participants grouped by age against mounds of freshly caught specimens, which they must strip of heads and legs before a whistle blows. An entry form and rules are available at the festival’s website. (It spells out in all caps that “NO MECHANICAL DEVICES OR TOOLS” will be allowed.)
The town makes a compelling argument for hosting what was declared the “official shrimp festival of the State of North Carolina” by state legislators in 2011. Roughly 385 tons of shrimp pass through the community’s seafood houses annually, a significant part of the statewide haul of roughly 4,200 tons in 2013.
Festival-goers can rejoice in the fact that most of this year’s offering will be the prized brown shrimp — often called “brownies” — beloved along the coast, with some white shrimp mixed in as well. But regardless of the species on the plate, the Mitchells are just honored to play a role in making sure those shrimp came from area waters.
“I can tell you, my husband is ecstatic. It was very sad, a lot of people had an issue with what was being served,” Mitchell said. “The pride in our community for being able to do that again, the chests are coming out.”
Shrimp festival on tap
The 44th Sneads Ferry Shrimp Festival is about to get underway.
The event, held on the community center grounds at 126 Park Lane in Sneads Ferry, includes amusement park rides, vendors including local artists and nonprofit organizations, and a parade at 9 a.m. on Aug. 9, the first day of the festival. The festival will continue Aug. 10.
Parking will be offsite at Sneads Ferry Road, Old Folkstone Road and Clay Hill Road, and trolleys will be provided to shuttle people to the festival. No coolers, pets, alcohol, or golf carts are allowed on the festival grounds.
Admission is $5 for anyone over 13, and $2 for children 6 to 12 years old.
For information, visit sneadsferryshrimpfestival.org.
9 a.m. Shrimp Festival Parade
10 a.m. Gates open
11a.m.-8 p.m. Shrimparoo dinners are served ($12)
11 a.m. Gator wrestling with Jimmy Riffle
12:30 p.m. Band of Oz plays on the main stage
1 p.m. Shrimp-heading contest
3 p.m. Gator wrestling with Jimmy Riffle
6 p.m. North Tower plays the main stage
9 p.m. Fireworks
9:30 p.m. Dixie Drive plays on the main stage
10 a.m. Gates open
10 a.m. Pageant queens
10 a.m. Car, truck and bike show
11 a.m.-5 p.m. Shrimparoo dinners are served ($12)
11:30 a.m. The Carolina Band plays on the main stage
12:30 p.m. Gator wrestling with Jimmy Riffle
2 p.m. The Embers featuring Craig Woolard play on the main stage
2:30 p.m. Gator wrestling with Jimmy Riffle
3:30 p.m. Car, truck and bike show awards
4 p.m. Gator wrestling with Jimmy Riffle, followed by a meet and greet