SNEADS FERRY — The docks were quiet and the scale empty but that didn’t stop the long-time customers from stopping by L.T. Everett & Sons this week in search of fresh seafood.
“ We still have people coming by,” said Jimmy “Gig” Everett, who stopped mid-conversation several times to greet customers unaware that the fish house is no longer in operation.
While L.T. Everett officially closed its doors Dec. 31, the approach of the busy spring season has news of the fish house’s end just beginning to spread.
Vattie Ward, who grew up in Sneads Ferry and now lives in Jacksonville, was surprised to learn a fixture in the community has closed.
“I’ve been coming here a long time to buy flounder, shrimp, a little bit of everything,” she said.
Everett said it’s a compliment to see the returning customers.
The hard part is explaining why the fish house won’t see another season.
L.T. Everett & Sons was started 67 years ago by the late Lonnie Thomas Everett. It was built on property his wife, Clara Everett, inherited from her father, Crosland Canady, who had operated one of the early fish houses of the community on land nearby.
Gig Everett and his brother, Tommy, carried on the fishing heritage; and until its closing the fish house remained in operation at its original location along the New River behind the Riverview Café.
After 43 years of operating the fish house together, the decision by the brothers to close the family business was not easy and not necessarily in their immediate plans.
Gig Everett, 60, jokes he’s not old enough yet to receive Social Security. Retirement wasn’t his choice.
He said that over the past several years it had become harder and harder for the business to survive.
“We couldn’t get enough seafood to keep us going,” he said.
Everett & Sons sold seafood wholesale and retail, buying from local fishermen as they brought fresh, wild-caught seafood to the dock.
Shrimp, oysters, all types of fish and even the occasional octopus was processed at the fish house and sold to restaurant, markets or customers stopping by for fresh seafood to cook at home.
“All we did was fresh local seafood. If it wasn’t local we didn’t buy it,” Everett said.
But there has to be enough seafood coming in to pay the bills.
The quality of the local seafood is there, he said, but fishermen can’t bring in the volume they once did. For that, Everett said, state and federal regulations are to blame.
Fish stocks such as sea bass, flounder, speckled trout, grouper and red drum — all fish they bought — are affected by regulations that call for limited seasons, size limits and pounds available for harvest.
“If we don’t get it, we can’t sell it,” he said.
Everett said the business began declining about four years ago and never bounced back.
“I kept thinking next year will be better, but it never was and it’s because of the rules and regulations,” he said.
He said they had a group of about 30 fishermen who supplied seafood for them regularly. They will continue to work in the area, taking their harvest to the remaining fish houses.
“We thank the fishermen and the customers who bought from us,” he said.
Tommy Everett let his brother do most of the talking. The closing, he said, hasn’t really hit him yet.
He suspects that will change once the cold spell ends and spring fishing kicks into gear.
“When the boats start running, that’s when it will probably hit me,” Tommy Everett said.
While the fish house has closed, they said the property will remain in the family, and a new generation of Everetts will put it to a new use.
Gig and Tommy Everett said they plan to turn the property over to their kids. While there are no formal plans, the initial idea is to lease dock space at the site.
“That’s what we like about it,” Gig Everett said. “It stays in the family.”
Contact Daily News reporter Jannette Pippin at 910-382-2557 or firstname.lastname@example.org.