Cannon's Ferry has a long tradition of herring fishing. Years ago this site had numerous fishing houses where individual fishermen would store their boat and gear and could process their catch.
In the mid 1940S, twelve local fishermen decided to join together to create a cooperative business where fish could be bought, sold, and processed. The business changed hands several times over the years. One of the last owners was the Perry Wynns Fish Company who also operated a fishery in Colerain, NC. During their ownership, the fishery expanded from one large wooden building to several cinder block buildings near the original.
"When the Chowan River prospered, then Chowan County prospered as well. Herring's what kept Chowan County floating." -Herbert Modlin, third generation fisherman
Many fish houses and fisheries were located at this site. The above photo is an aerial view of Cannon's Ferry in circa 1970s (courtesy of Mack Hendrix). Perry Wynns Fish Company appears in the photo on the left (courtesy of Jane Joyner). On the right boats unload herring at the fishery (courtesy of the North Carolina Office of Archives and History).
"It's hard work, but it's pretty fishing." -Herbert Byrum, fifth generation fisherman
The Annual "Run"
The annual "run" of herring happened each year around Easter, when the dogwoods are in bloom. Using pound nets, fishermen would catch hundreds of herring and would haul their load to the back of the main wooden building. The fish were unloaded onto conveyor belts that took the fish to be washed. The herring were then taken to tables where several women would cut them and collect the roe (herring eggs). Conveyors then took the cut fish to salting bins (or pickling vats) to be preserved. In later years, collected roe was sent to one of the cinder block buildings to be canned. The fish "scrap" was also taken to another building and cooked into fish meal that was used as fertilizer for local crops.
The herring industry provided Chowan County and its residents a strong economy and prominent food source for many years. Although the industry has declined in recent years due to low fish populations, herring fishing remains to be an important part of Chowan County culture.
Joe Byrum (top left) bails herring captured in a pound net into his boat. (Courtesy of Bobby Byrum). (Top center): Illustration of a pound net. (Courtesy of Bobby Byrum). (Right): Illustration of the inside of Perry Wynns Fish Company (Courtesy of Carroll Pery,Jr.)
(Far right): Many local workers were employed at the fishery at Cannon's Ferry to clean and cut herring, can roe, and preserve the herring with salt. (Photos courtesy of the North Carolina Office of Archives and History).