The Core Sound Seafood Crew
Eddie and Alison are Owners of Core Sound Seafood. Though both from North Carolina, they grew up a world away, with Alison’s family from Raleigh and Eddie’s from Harkers Island, where his grandparents were well known boat builders. When Alison came down to the island on vacation years ago, she met Eddie, fell in love, and hasn’t left since. They now own Mr. Big’s Seafood, LLC together, selling seafood to their local restaurants and community.
Mr. Big Seafood was started in 1976 by Weldon “Peter” Willis and James “Eddie” Willis of Harkers Island, North Carolina. Peter was a third generation commercial fisherman and boat builder. Eddie became the fourth generation of the Willis family to become a commercial fisherman. In the early years, they sold solely to local fish houses in the area. By 1991, Eddie began catching, shedding and shipping his own soft crabs to Fulton Market in New York.
In 1998, Eddie and his family were featured in Carmine Prioli’s book, “Hope for a Good Season – The Ca’e Bankers of Harkers Island.” Mr. Prioli’s book documented the commercial fishing heritage on Harkers Island and shared the story of the few remaining commercial fishermen and boat builders on the island.
By 2003, Peter had retired and Eddie had taken over the family business. He saw his fellow fishermen leaving their lives on the water as global markets, community economic loss, increasing seafood imports, rising fuel prices and decreasing buying prices threatened their livelihood. Abandoning his commercial fishing heritage and life on the water was not an option for Eddie. But, he knew his business had to change and adapt to the new economic and regulatory conditions of the 21st century.
By 2004, Eddie had fully vertically integrated his business model. He began by building an ice room and cold room and purchasing an ice machine. The new facilities enabled Eddie to handle and sell his own catch directly to seafood wholesalers and retailers from North Carolina to New York. He even expanded into holding live flounders caught in his pound nets for sushi markets in Washington, Richmond, Atlanta and New York.
Eddie began working with NOAA to catch and tag endangered sea turtles. Eddie’s invaluable knowledge of Core Sound and the surrounding waters made him vital to NOAA’s efforts to safely catch and release sea turtles. He continues these efforts today.
In 2005, Eddie opened a small retail seafood market that allowed him to capture tourist dollars during the summer months. Mr. Big Seafood Market has become well known throughout Carteret County as “the place” to buy the highest quality seafood. Customers drive from as far away as Emerald Isle, passing countless seafood stands and markets, just to purchase fresh shrimp from Mr. Big Seafood.
By 2007, Eddie was able to begin purchasing and handling seafood from other Carteret County fishermen. The increased volume drew more buyers to his fish house.
In 2010, Eddie expanded further by processing seafood for Core Sound Seafood, LLC. The addition gave Eddie and other fishermen like him another avenue to sell their catch directly to North Carolina consumers.
In the fall of 2010, Eddie was featured in a NC Coast Business Journal article by Amanda Dagnino entitled “When Fish Walk.” Eddie was also a featured speaker at the NC Rural Economic and Development Center’s Amenity-Based Development forum. The forum featured a captivating video by Snyder Productions that featured Eddie and his value-added approach to commercial fishing.
In May 2012, Eddie and his small seafood market were mentioned in Matt and Ted Lee’s Southern Living article entitled, “Eat Your Way to the Outer Banks.”
Eddie considers his life as a North Carolina waterman to be a privilege – not a job, but a lifestyle. If asked, he would tell you that he has never had a job.
Adam was born in Sea Level, NC, a small Down East community—not just a term for being at the beach! He grew up fishing and hunting in Core Sound. He describes his childhood as being a bit like that of Tom Sawyer. Adam has been commercial fishing since he was 7 years old on trips with his grandfather. He worked both in the water and at what used to be Elmer’s Clam House in Williston, NC, through high school. After a 5 year tour in the service, Adam embarked on a sales career for several years, mostly in marine propulsion systems. He realized he was not very content with this life on the road and decided to go back to commercial fishing. Since Adam has been back on the water, he has been very content with his career choice. Adam enjoys taking his 6 year old son on the boat and watching him explore the water and catch fish. Their discoveries together bring Adam sheer joy and remind him of his own days as a young boy living on the water.
Brett was born and raised Down East. He works full time for Eddie and Alison during the spring and fall. During the summer, he works part time for the Willis’ and part time as mate on the Sea Beagle, a charter boat out of Morehead City, NC. Many Carrboro and Chapel Hill shareholders might recognize Brett as he makes all of Core Sound Seafood’s in-state deliveries. Brett is also a huge asset when it comes to packing shares as he is very skilled with a fillet knife.
The Morris Family – Shellfish Gardens
Owners and Operators
For over six generations, the Morris Family of Carteret County has worked the waters of Core and Pamlico sounds as commercial fishermen. Since 1985, the Morris Family has cultivated delicious North Carolina clams and oysters. Today, this family operates a number of oyster and clam gardens supplying littleneck clams and half shell oysters to local and regional markets.
Anna grew up in Japan with a love for fresh seafood served simply. Finding herself settled in Carrboro years later, she enjoyed being part of a vibrant community that values local farmers, but found that appreciation for the local seafood industry was not as strong. When she learned about the CSF model, she knew the Triangle community would embrace such a service and leapt at the opportunity to work with a group of key stakeholders to create Core Sound Seafood. As Co-founder of the business, Anna enjoys working with and constantly learning from fishermen. In addition to her work with Core Sound Seafood, she works for The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the U.N. on projects and policies related to sustainability and the small-scale fisheries sector.