Blueline tilefish are commercially harvested off the N.C. coast, provide lean, white meat and delicately flavor.

Several commercial fishermen from the Outer Banks have been paying it forward this winter with donations of fish to a local food pantry. Buddy Coppersmith (F/V Emily Shay), Jimmy Taylor (F/V Windy Gale), and Dewey Hemilright (F/V Tar Baby), have been commercial fishermen for most of their lives. Recently, they’ve been working under a cooperative research grant collecting data that will improve future stock assessments for blueline tilefish.

Hemilright, an avid community outreach volunteer with the Coastal Federation’s office in Manteo is well-known for leading education lessons for students and adults and was recognized for his outstanding contributions to the Coastal Federation’s northeast education program with a Pelican Award in 2015.

While participating in the cooperative research project to gather fisheries- independent data on blueline tilefish and snowy grouper, the fishermen were sent out to fish and collect samples. Since the fishermen were receiving payment through the cooperative research grant, they could not sell their catch. Nor did they want to see it go to waste, and so sought out other options for it.

Theresa Armendarez, Beach Food Pantry, accepting fresh tilefish fillets donated from local commercial fishermen, including Dewey Hemilright.

Theresa Armendarez, Beach Food Pantry, accepting fresh tilefish fillets donated from local commercial fishermen, including Dewey Hemilright.

For life-long Dare County resident, Hemilright, giving back to the community was an easy decision. With the Coastal Federation’s help, he reached out into the community and found the perfect place to donate the “research” tilefish—the Beach Food Pantry in Kitty Hawk. Pantry representatives, Kathy McCullough-Testa and Theresa Armendarez, were thrilled with the donation, “It has been so wonderful to have fish to give out to those in need here in Dare County,” stated the pair.

The fish were processed at Etheridge Seafood Company and O’Neal’s Sea Harvest, with both local businesses providing crucial support to process, package, freeze and store the fish collected. After several deliveries from fish house to food pantry, over 750 pounds of blueline tilefish fillets were donated to the Beach Food Pantry. This donation marks the first time that locally caught fish has ever been stocked in the Pantry’s freezer.

Hemilright went the extra mile when he personally prepared 130 pounds of the fish to help create 225 meals for Bethany’s Table. This volunteer outreach service, led monthly by Bethany United Methodist Church in Wanchese, delivers meals to households throughout the region. This meal was also the first time local fish was ever offered through the church.

Hemilright is often heard saying how blessed we are in North Carolina to have access to such an incredible bounty of seafood along our coast. Thanks to the positive impacts of collaboration, Dare County residents who benefited from the project are now grateful that this bounty of fish fell into the hands of such generous fishermen looking to paying it forward to their community.


Fried blueline tilefish fillets were used to create meals for volunteer outreach service through Bethany’s Table.

Cooperative Research Project Details:

This cooperative research was made possible through a grant from the Southeast Fishery Science Center in Beaufort, North Carolina and with the collaboration with Todd Kellison, Chief Fisheries Ecosystems Branch of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission.

When fisheries scientists collect fisheries information independent of commercial or recreational fishing operations, this information is considered fisheries-independent data. Such data are needed to accurately assess marine fish populations and are used in conjunction with fisheries-dependent data for estimating total population size in order to accurately update stock assessments.

A trained research observer was present on each fishing trip, alongside the boat captains and their crew and the three participating fishing vessels essentially turned into research platforms. While the captains and crew set gear and hauled in the tilefish catch, the researchers measured length and weight, recorded sex, clipped fins for DNA analysis and measured age by collecting the fish otoliths (ear bones). All of this fishery independent data collected will be compiled for use in future stock assessments, in order to manage the blueline tilefish fishery through bag limits and annual catch limits.

For this project, three North Carolina boats (from Wanchese) conducted sampling for a cumulative total of 27 days from Norfolk Canyon, Virginia to Cape Lookout, North Carolina in water depths ranging from 250 to over 750 feet. These sampling trips were planned objectively to understand the stock distribution and different depth ranges for this species. Efforts for this cooperative research project also took place off South Carolina and Key West, Florida.