Cajun Shrimp Boat gets a second act with Virginia oysters

November 28, 2022

This 36′ x 15′ Cajun-built aluminum vessel was converted from a North Carolina skimmer shrimp trawler to an oyster dredging boat on the Chesapeake Bay. Larry Chowning photo.

Back in the August 2017 issue of National Fishermanthe Cambri Nicole, a 36′ x 15′ aluminum skimmer trawl shrimp boat built in Abbeville, La. in 1999, was on display at a Chesapeake Bay shipyard.

This month she was back at The Boatyard in Christchurch in Saluda, Virginia, where she was being rigged up to catch oysters on Virginia’s public dredging fishery on the Rappahannock River.

Steve Kessler of Ingleheart, NC sold the shrimp fisherman to oystercatcher Mack Robbins of White Stone, Virginia, who will be using the Cajun skiff to harvest Virginia oysters this year.

Kessler has worked the shrimp fishery in Pamlico Sound, North Carolina for the past six years but decided it was time to quit the shrimp fishery.

“The last two years haven’t been great,” says Kessler. “There’s constant pressure from the community to keep us away from the noise and they’re talking about requiring turtle guards down there on boats under 40ft, which would just be another expense for me.”

Current laws require turtle stoppers to be attached to trawls on boats 40 feet and longer, he says. “I’ve worked on the Cambri Nicole for six years and I’ve never caught a dead turtle,” says Kessler. “I’ve caught many of these big blue-eyed sea turtles before, but our capture only lasts 50 minutes, so they stay alive. Still, they talk about making lockout devices mandatory on boats under 40 feet.

“She (Cambri Nicole) is going to look weird out there with all those wooden deadrise boats in the Chesapeake Bay, but she can go in circles as well as any of those boats,” says Kessler.

Virginia’s public dredger fishery uses a 22-inch-wide dredge, and because many of the public oyster bluffs are narrow, boats circle to stay on or cross the beds. There is a daily limit of 8 bushels per license and two licensed watermen are allowed on a boat.

“She’ll have no trouble handling 16 bushels of oysters. That’s a bit overkill,” Kessler mused, referring to Cambri Nicole’s much larger payload capacity.

Henry Smith, manager of The Boatyard in Christchurch, specializes in aluminum welding and cut the crab trawl rigging and reworked the rigging to allow Robbins to tow an oyster dredger. He also revised the hydraulics.

Interestingly, Cambri Nicole is one of several boats built in the Gulf of Mexico to work Virginia’s oyster fishery, a sign that the fishery is healthy enough to support a variety of boats.