ASPA Member Feature: Pamlico Packing Company
January 14, 2022
Pamlico Packing Company is one of North Carolina’s premier processing operations, as well as a top supplier of specialty seafood products to various markets all along the East Coast. Bountiful harvests of shrimp, flounder and Atlantic Blue Crab are pulled seasonally from the state’s Pamlico Sound, the nation’s largest lagoonal estuary, and second in size only to the Chesapeake Bay.
The business is comprised of two plants: a waterfront property in Vandemere, and another in Grantsboro, which is 12 miles inland. Ed Cross, owner, and his two sons, Don, secretary/treasurer, and Doug, vice president, have owned and operated the plant since 1976. However, the history of the Vandemere facility goes back to 1941 when the Holton family founded the company.
Earl Holton ventured into the seafood industry during a time when oysters took center stage. Due to the abundant supply and strong demand, it was a natural fit to open an oyster shucking plant right on the Bay River, which also happens to be one of the original oyster plants opened in North Carolina during World War II. It didn’t take long before loaded-down schooners caught wind of the new business and made their way to the company docks.
“Historical photos show schooners full of oysters lining the harbor just waiting to be unloaded,” Don says. “This industry was a huge part of the town’s commerce so a railroad line was built to service the Vandemere waterfront so oysters could be offloaded from schooners directly into boxcars. The railroad line used to run right near the plant by the docks and they would back rail cars down here, load them with oysters and then take them out.”
Don says prior to World War II, there wasn’t a dedicated shrimp fishery on the East Coast because the concept of eating shrimp was somewhat of a foreign idea. Fishermen thought they got in the way and locals even called them “bugs.” But, thanks to some entrepreneurial thinking and the national need for more protein sources, Earl helped pioneer the shrimp fishery in the area and went from packing oysters and fish to also packing shrimp.
For more than three decades, Earl’s plant thrived year-round from seasonal harvests, but when he was in his late 60s, he started to look for a successor to take over the business. And that’s when Ed came into the picture.
Ed always had a love for being on the water, so when it came time to retire from his tile and glass business in Raleigh, North Carolina, he knew exactly what he wanted to do: buy a couple of shrimp boats for recreational purposes and just enjoy life on the Vandemere waterfront with his wife and two boys.
“My love for the water was the whole thing,” Ed says. “I just wanted to go shrimping.”
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