WANCHESE —— Dewey Hemilright has spent more than half his life in North Carolina’s commercial fishing industry, but he says he has never heard a bigger fish story than the claim by the Outer Banks Seafood Festival that it promotes the harvest he and his colleagues work so hard to haul in.

“It’s a deception,” he said, after first using a colorful phrase that rolls more easily off the tongue of a career waterman. “They’re telling people – or at least implying to people – who come down here that they’re going to get local North Carolina seafood. They’re not. What they’re getting is imported. But put that on your sign and see how many people show up. It’s not right. You shouldn’t have to read the fine print.”

A handful of small events along the coast each year feature the blue crabs, brown shrimp, yellowfin tuna and some of the dozens of other shellfish and finfish species that fishermen wrestle from the state’s oceans and sounds. But two of the most heavily promoted festivals – the Outer Banks Seafood Festival in Nags Head and the North Carolina Seafood Festival in Morehead City – predominantly offer the same foreign imports that American consumers typically buy in grocery stores and eat at restaurants.

Festival organizers say they encourage, but can’t force, vendors to serve North Carolina products. They add that those who offer flounder platters and baskets of deep-fried shrimp from booths, between the band performances and the craft tents, say that cost and limited availability make it difficult, if not impossible, to sell only what is homegrown.

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