The Real Salt Life
March 2022 Issue
By Mary Hope Roseneau
Photography (left) by Cassidy Dunn Photography
I met up with Craig Reaves and his son Sam at the family business, Sea Eagle Market, on Boundary Street in Beaufort. As I was leaving, my husband said, “Pick up some shrimp for dinner!” Everyone in Beaufort loves the Reaves’ fresh shrimp, and a quick and delicious meal can be made with any of their local, fresh seafood.
Craig had started his long day of oystering with a Bible study at 6:30 a.m. He and his family are active at Cross Community Church, a young, active church that meets at the YMCA in Beaufort. Faith and trust in God are an important part of the Reaves family life.
Craig and Sam Reaves are passionate about the water. Seven-year-old Sam started our conversation off with, “I love fishing!” and started telling tales about the big ones he’s caught. Craig explained that Sam’s favorite kind of fishing is with a rod and reel, not the commercial type, but he’s getting there. Craig has been taking Sam out more and more on the family boat, and even teaching him how to drive, or “captain” the boat.
We met after Sam had been picked up from Holy Trinity School where he is a second grader. He was enjoying an after-school snack. Craig is a big burly guy, with a full beard and twinkling eyes. He wore muddy white boots from a long day of oyster gathering. Sam has the same twinkling eyes, but wore his school uniform and munched his snack in between fish stories. He assured me he had muddy white boots just like his dad.
The 3-foot wooden wheel to steer the boat is as big as Sam! But he’s learning fast. Sam loves to go with his dad and spend the night on the water. Their boat has bunkbeds, a bathroom, kitchen and air conditioning. The best part, Sam said, is sunrise. Craig says that if he’s snoozing in his bunk too long, Sam will come rouse him with “We’re burnin’ daylight!” to see the glorious change from dark to sunrise that happens every day. Craig posts numerous live Facebook videos for the rest of us to share in that experience in the early morning hours. His videos of the sunrise over Lowcountry waters are so beautiful you cannot express them in mere words.
The whole family works hard in the business, which includes a busy catering schedule and food truck. Janna Reaves is the wife and mother of the crew that includes Melena Artsinger, CJ and his wife Kim, Molleigh and the littlest one Sam. Craig’s mom, and Sam’s grandmother, Alice Reaves, works at the market as well. The family’s parents and grandparents were commercial fishermen, and taught them the love and respect one has for the salt water and the way to harvest its bounty.
"I am so grateful to pass my passion for the real salt life, not the bumper sticker one, on to my children and grandchildren."
The Reaves family is famous for giving back to the community. Craig sees his mission as one to “feed people.” During hurricanes, Craig and his crew “ride out” the hurricane on their boats, and afterwards set up huge cooking operations to serve the first responders in the community. They worked round the clock, especially during Hurricane Matthew, getting up to make breakfast, prepare lunch bags and having supper for the exhausted utility crews, police, fire and medical community.
Things have really changed in the fishing industry, however. A few years ago Beaufort County had 100 commercial shrimp trawlers working in our waters. Today there are only about 12 active shrimp boats. Why? I asked. Craig explained that there are lots of reasons: Imported seafood; inflation in fuel and other operating supplies have made making a profit more difficult; and of course, government regulations. In addition, pesticides and residential development of the marshes have reduced fish and shrimp populations.
But Craig is not discouraged about the future one bit. “I trust in God,” he answered simply, when I asked about concerns he might have for Sam’s future in commercial fishing.
“I am so grateful to pass my passion for the real salt life, not the bumper sticker one, on to my children and grandchildren. For us, making a living from the ocean, commercial fishing, was passed down to me from my dad and grandparents. Now I am passing this way of life on to my kids and grandkids. We have a great responsibility to be good stewards of our natural resources, always doing the hard work that will make us sustainable for generations to come. I am truly blessed to work with my family harvesting the best local shrimp, oysters and blue crabs, providing a service to our community that is disappearing way too fast. Commercial fishing villages are all but history, but to see my kids have the same passion for the family’s way of life makes me so proud.”