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Fall is a favorite time of many along the Crystal Coast. Cooler temperatures, smaller crowds, award winning fishing and standout festivals are the earmarks of the shoulder season, and the NC Seafood Festival – which turns 30 this year – gets it all started Sept. 30-Oct. 2.

Held during the mild climes of the first weekend of October, the Seafood Festival brings a full slate of special events, entertainment, rides, vendors, educational opportunities and enough fun to keep the whole family busy all weekend long.

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While it’s the music, the Ferris wheel and the chance to pick up wares from favorite arts and crafts vendors that keep visitors entertained, it’s that lure of the catch that brings them there – the ever-present aroma of seafood frying that calls residents and visitors to the waterfront in droves like a Siren’s song for the hungry.

One of the best ways to raise awareness of Carteret’s abundant catch is to get that seafood into the hands, and ultimately the mouths, of consumers. Refreshing itself year after year, the Seafood Festival is focused on doing just that, coming up with creative new ways to bring the taste of the coast to the public year after year.

If folks enjoy what they’re sampling throughout the festival, the seafood Open Aire Market gives visitors the chance to take a little piece of Carteret County seafood home with them. The Local Fair with Coastal Flair includes representatives from area fishery organizations to provide information on proper handling, cleaning and storing of fresh seafood.

While seafood may be the focus, those with a hankering can find just about every kind of traditional carnival offering, from corn dogs and burgers to ice cream and funnel cakes, and some a little less ordinary, like alligator bites, dotting along Morehead City’s downtown waterfront.

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         The food offerings are joined by more than 150 vendors featuring the wares of local artisans. Photography, painting, glass blowing and molding, wood carvings, wall hangings and pottery are just a few of the arts and crafts you can expect to find along the streets in Morehead City during the festival. Other booths will offer Seafood Fest gear, including T-shirts and a popular annual poster.

It’s safe to say that the grassroots effort to raise awareness of the commercial seafood industry in North Carolina has exceeded all expectations. Recognized as the state’s second largest festival, the event has not only increased the visibility of Eastern North Carolina’s array of seafood, but it has provided a fundraising platform for nonprofit organizations throughout the region. Band and athletic boosters, Scout troops, churches, support groups and more are given an opportunity to sell their own, or festival merchandise, to raise money for their organizations. Since 1987, more than $2 million has been dispersed among participating groups.

Blessing the Fleet

Without the commercial fishermen who work the waters of Eastern North Carolina, there would be no reason for a Seafood Festival. Fishermen who have lost their lives to make their living on the sea are honored each year with what many consider the most moving part of the annual festival, the Blessing of the Fleet.

The Sunday, Oct. 2 program, which is simulcast on 107 – the Talk Station, brings vessels in a parade past the NC State Port, while the names of those lost are read over a loud speaker. Fellowship, music and guest speakers round out the program.

On the Sidelines

There is a lot going on at the Seafood Festival – both in downtown Morehead City and in the surrounding areas. Between tapping your toes to the music, dining on the various options and strolling through the midway, there’s plenty to keep you busy.

Be sure to check out the Southern Outer Banks Boat Show on land and in the water along the Morehead City waterfront on Saturday and Sunday.

The Twin Bridges Road Race gets things started on Saturday morning, beginning at 8am at the Beaufort drawbridge. Fireworks are slated for 9pm on Saturday.

Those looking for a little more action may want to try their hand at the Family Pier Fishing Tournament at the Bogue Inlet and Oceanana fishing piers on Saturday and Sunday. The entry fee is $15 per person.

Six fish qualify for bragging rights, including spot, flounder, sea mullet, pompano, hogfish and bluefish. All must be caught by rod and reel and must be weighed by pier personnel. Entry forms can be found at ncseafoodfestival.org.

To learn more about the NC Seafood Festival, visit ncseafoodfestival.org.

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