More than Tourism – Important OBX Industries

Outer Banks’ Other Industries

With its wonderful beaches and natural beauty, it’s no wonder the Outer Banks is one of the most visited places on the East Coast.

With that kind of popularity, almost everything we do on the Outer Banks centers around our visitors, whether it’s property management and lodging, retail or restaurants. Even our construction and real estate is based on how popular we have become.

Tourism is our number one industry, and has been for years. We have, after all, lots of practice; the first homes of a nascent tourist based economy were built in Nags Head in the 1820s.

Yet, although taking care of our a few million visitors every year is what most of us do, it’s not the only way we earn a living.

Here are a couple of the other industries on the Outer Banks.

Commercial Fishing

A great example of how important the fishing industry is to the Outer Banks comes on the third Saturday of October of every year. That’s when the Outer Banks Seafood Festival takes over the Nags Head Event Site. Created to draw attention to our commercial fishing industry, the festival is a day filled with great food, music, family entertainment and a chance to see how commercial fishermen earn a living.

The ocean bordering the Outer Banks and our sounds have always been known as a place teeming with life, although commercial fishing as a viable way to earn a living took a while to develop.

Probably the first commercial products taken from the sea on the Outer Banks would have been whales if one washed up on the beach, or porpoise and dolphin that were processed for their oil.

Relatively isolated and lacking a good transportation network, shipping a product as perishable as fresh seafood to market limited how far Outer Banks could be distributed. Very little fresh seafood was shipped anywhere before the end of the 19th century, but salted seafood—shad and herring on the Outer Bank—was an important commercial product.

With the advent of refrigeration and an improved transportation network, fresh seafood became an important part of the local economy.

The harvest changes from year to year, but over the past few years, blue crab, shrimp, oyster, yellowfin tuna and mahi-mahi are often seen in local markets. Oysters in particular are enjoying a remarkable comeback after years of poor management practices and harvesting techniques.

Wanchese on Roanoke Island and Hatteras Village are the two main commercial docks on the Outer Banks. There is also a small commercial dock at Avon on Hatteras Island.


Hard statistics are difficult to come buy, but it is very possible that after tourism and its related fields, boatbuilding is the largest private employer on the Outer Banks.

It does make a certain amount of sense with so much of local life dependent upon the sea and sounds.

What seems to set the Outer Banks apart from other areas, though, is the history of local boatbuilding that has created a population of skilled artisans.

When George Washington Creef created his shad boat in 1870 he could not know that one day it would be known as the official state boats of North Carolina. What he was trying to do was create a shallow-draft boat that was stable, maneuverable, and could comfortably handle a day’s catch of shad.

The boat was created from a combination of split logs and plank-on-frame construction. It was ideally designed as a sailboat, although it continued to be built until the 1930s

Creef’s influence extended beyond his shad boat design; because of its popularity and his willingness to show others how to build the boat, the Outer Banks became a center of skilled boatbuilders.

When Buddy Davis introduced his Carolina Flare to the world in 1973, he was following in the innovative footsteps of Creef.

Still one of the most popular boat designs, with its narrow V hull and flaring to a wide deck, they are an ideal craft for the rough waters of the Outer Banks. Almost all of the Outer Banks commercial and recreational fishing fleet use a Carolina flare or modified Carolina flare design.

The Carolina Flare is not the only model Outer Banks boat builders are creating. They have also become the master of a modified shad boat as well as catamarans and other designs.

Most of the boatbuilders are located on Roanoke Island and Manns Harbor with a concentration in Wanchese.