and said, “What’d you think of Jay Hadley?”
I cocked a cynical eye at Chet. “So now I’ll ask her how she knows Jay Hadley and she’ll tell me everybody down here knows Jay Hadley, right?”
“Well, most everybody who fishes for their livelihood.” He gathered up the menus the waitress had handed us and said to her, “We’re in sort of a hurry, darlin’, so why don’t you bring us each a nice bowl of your she-crab soup, then a big plate of fried oysters and side dishes of slaw all around. That okay with you, Deborah? Honey?”
Barbara Jean and I agreed it sounded delicious to us.
Her roots go way back to Beaufort’s beginnings, while Chet’s people were carpetbaggers who came south after the Civil War. Even though Chet teases her that she married down, both are still more boardroom and resort town than leased bottoms and clam rakes, and it surprised me that she’d know Jay Hadley.
“Jay’s real active in the Independent Fishers Alliance that Andy Bynum helped start. I’m a member, too.”
“See, what’s been happening down here,” said Chet, “is that tempers have been getting more and more frayed these last few years.”
“And with good cause,” Barbara Jean chimed in.
“Everybody wants a slice of the resources and everybody thinks his wants are more justified than anyone else’s.”
” Barbara Jean said hotly.
Chet grinned at me. “See? And she’s one of the reasonable ones. Eat your soup, honey,” he said as the waitress distributed wonderfully fragrant bowls of hot ambrosia.
She-crab soup is something like New England clam chowder, only made with the yellow roe and luscious back fins of female crabs.
Barbara Jean obediently savored a spoonful before diving back into a recitation of the area’s conflicts.
“See, Deborah, for years the water here belonged to the people who worked it. We took out what we wanted, when we wanted, and as much as we wanted because fish and shellfish were plentiful and there weren’t many rules or limits. Fishing was the backbone of Carteret County’s economy. In fact, Beaufort was even called Fishtowne at one point. Then they started in with all the rules and regulations—”
“Because the water’s overfished and varieties are declining,” said Chet.
“For which we get all the blame. Never mind all the sportsmen coming down taking whatever
want, or developers destroying natural habitats, or the pier owners and the jet ski rentals and the tackle shop owners who don’t want any nets or big boats in the sound because they say we’re driving away the tourists. They particularly don’t want any trawlers. You won’t believe the propaganda they put out about us!”
I’d never seen her this vehement back in Raleigh.
“They’re going to kill our menhaden industry. Thank God Chet’s got a head for investments or we’d be out in the street. And what’s going to happen to the men we employ? Twenty-three black families and—”
“And she’s one of the reasonable ones?” I asked Chet.
“Maybe not as reasonable as Andy Bynum,” he conceded as he reached for another hushpuppy.
“The government calls it protection and management of the resources,” said Barbara Jean, “when it’s nothing in the world but meddling and restrictive and economic murder.”
“All the same,” said Chet, “when the state started Marine Fisheries—”
“Marine Fisheries Commission,” I murmured knowingly.
“—Andy made sure he was one of the commercial fishermen who got a seat on it. He was realistic enough to know that times really were a-changing. ‘Regulations are coming,’ he’d say, ‘whether you want ‘em or not.’ And he figured he’d rather be on the inside helping to shape those regulations than on the outside watching commercial interests get swamped. Some of the watermen thought he was a traitor to their cause.”
Barbara Jean nodded. “I was one of them at first. But some of what he had to say made