1254 Island Road
Harkers Island, NC 28531
* Meet James “Eddie” Willis *
James “Eddie” Willis is the owner of Mr. Big Seafood Market on Harkers Island. The fish house has a reputation throughout Carteret County as the place to buy the highest-quality seafood. Some customers take the hour-long drive from Emerald Isle just to purchase Eddie’s fresh shrimp.
Eddie is the fourth generation of the Willis family in the commercial fishing industry. He opened Mr. Big Seafood with his father, Weldon “Peter” Willis, in 1976. In the early years, Eddie and Peter, who was a commercial fisherman and boat builder, sold only to local fish houses around Harkers Island. By 1991, Eddie began catching, shedding and shipping his own soft crabs to Fulton Market in New York.
By the time Eddie took over the family business in 2003, an influx of seafood imports, rising fuel prices and decreasing revenue from local seafood threatened fishermen’s livelihoods. Eddie, committed to his commercial fishing heritage, wanted to continue his life on the water. To do that, he adapted his business to the new realities of the 21st century.
By 2004, Eddie had built new facilities that enabled him to sell his own catch directly to seafood wholesalers and retailers from North Carolina to New York. The following year, Eddie opened a small retail seafood market to capture tourist dollars in the summer. He also started to sell seafood purchased from other Carteret County fishermen in 2007, drawing even more buyers to his fish house.
In 2010, Eddie further expanded by processing seafood for Core Sound Seafood’s Community Supported Fishery (CSF) program. This partnership continues to give Eddie and other fishermen another avenue to sell their catch directly to North Carolina consumers.
Eddie has been the focus of a 2010 NC Coast Business Journal article by Amanda Dagnino, entitled “When Fish Walk.” Eddie also was a featured speaker at the North Carolina Rural Economic and Development Center’s Amenity-Based Development forum that same year. The event featured a video by Snyder Productions highlighting Eddie’s value-added approach to commercial fishing.
In May 2012, Eddie and his seafood market were mentioned in Matt and Ted Lee’s Southern Living article, entitled “Eat Your Way to the Outer Banks.”
Eddie took another step to build his business in 2014. He began to peel and devein Core Sound shrimp for the restaurant trade in Carteret County.
Eddie also began working with North Carolina Sea Grant, North Carolina Cooperative Extension and Locals Seafood on a pilot project to test the demand for peeled-and-deveined, frozen shrimp among consumers who buy local seafood at farmers markets in the Triangle.
Eddie considers his life as a North Carolina waterman to be a privilege — not work, but a lifestyle. He likes to tell people that he has never had a job.