Back in the August 2017 issue of National Fisherman, the Cambri Nicole, a 36’ x 15’ aluminum skimmer trawl shrimp boat built in Abbeville, La. in 1999 was featured at a Chesapeake Bay boatyard.
This month, she was back at The Boatyard at Christchurch in Saluda, Va. being rigged up to go oystering in Virginia’s public dredge fishery on the Rappahannock River.
Steve Kessler of Ingleheart, N. C. sold the shrimper to oysterman Mack Robbins of White Stone, Va. who is going to use the Cajun skiff this year to harvest Virginia oysters.
Kessler has worked the boat in North Carolina’s Pamlico Sound shrimp fishery for the last six years but decided it was time to give up shrimping.
“The last two years have not been great,” says Kessler. “There is constant pressure from the residential community to keep us out of the sounds and they are talking about requiring turtle excluders down there on boats under 40-feet, which would be just another expense for me.”
Current laws require turtle excluders fitted to trawl nets on boats 40-feet and over, he says. “I’ve worked the Cambri Nicole for six years and never caught a dead turtle,” says Kessler. “I’ve caught a many a one of those big blue eyed sea turtles, but our hauls are just 50 minutes, so they stay alive. Still, they are talking about requiring excluder devices on boats under 40-feet.
“She (Cambri Nicole) is going to look funny out there with all those wooden Chesapeake Bay deadrise boats but she can go in a circle as good as any of those boats,” says Kessler.
Virginia’s public dredge fishery uses a 22” wide dredge and because many of the public oyster rocks are narrow the boats go in circles to stay on or to cross over the beds. There is a daily limit of 8 bushels per license and two licensed watermen are allowed on a boat.
“She won’t have any trouble handling 16 bushels of oysters. There is a bit of an overkill there,” mused Kessler referring to Cambri Nicole’s much greater payload capacity.
Henry Smith, manager of The Boatyard at Christchurch, specializes in welding aluminum and has cut the shrimp trawl rigging off and reworked the rigging for Robbins to pull an oyster dredge. He has also reworked the hydraulics.
Interestingly, Cambri Nicole is one of several Gulf of Mexico built boats working in Virginia’s oyster fishery, a sign that the fishery is healthy enough to support a diversity of boats.