Our first stop this session was to West Point, Virginia and I got to experience my hometown as a tourist. The town has changed so much for example, we met at 3 Rivers Seafood, growing up this was the spot of Massey Oil and the neighboring lot was a riverfront restaurant. I remember people coming to dine by boat and thought that was so cool. My uncle came by boat one time to meet us for lunch from Gloucester. Today, 3 Rivers Seafood allows patrons boat parking AND fueling! That’s right, they have a gas station for boats.
The owners of 3 Rivers Seafood are the Kurfees Family and Andy Kurfees allowed VALOR Class V to meet for a tour and dinner. The company name comes from the three rivers surrounding West Point, the Pamunkey, the Mattaponi, and where the two rivers meet, it forms the York River. It’s a beautiful spot. Every time I’m there I feel relaxed. The atmosphere is casual and a place to dine with friends. It is right on the Mattaponi River and has a great view of the bridge going into King & Queen County.
While I’ve known his family since childhood and grew up on the water, there is so much I do not know about aquaculture. One topic Andy spoke about extensively was the process to become a commercial waterman, there is currently a moratorium on licensing. Which means, to become a waterman, you must buy it from a current waterman willing to sell. There is license for so many different things crabbing, oyster sucking, and more recently the state is allowing license for shrimping!
Everywhere you go you hear about LABOR SHORTAGES and the seafood industry is no different. There is a lack of waterman. There is a lack of crab pickers and its hard-to-find commercial crab pickers. For it to be profitable you must be fast and that takes experience. While other industries can automate, it’s been tried but yields too much grit and shell. No one wants a crab cake with a shell in it! This is one reason consumers pay up for crab meat, it is picked by hand.
Soft Shell Crabs
I had never seen a soft-shell crabbing station, I’m not sure that’s the official term for it. The season begins in April and ends early June. The crabs peel 38 times in its life. Every time the crab peels, it gets 30% bigger with its life span being 3 years. After the crab peels, it begins to harden back within 3 hours. So basically, Andy has to work a lot of hours during this time to pull the pots, bring the crabs in to the station, make sure the water is working throughout the station, and move the crabs as soon as they peel (molt) their outer layer.
William Murray from VMRC spoke to VALOR while we were at 3 Rivers Seafood. VMRC is the Virginia Marine Resource Commission, and they have oversite on Virginia’s waterways. They zone the water areas, regulate recreational fishing, commercial fishing, permitting, and licensing. VMRC is tied to what Andy does and so many other watermen in Virginia. William works with a lot of the waterman and commercial operations regularly on projects. One of his focuses is on Oyster Replenishment and setting up oyster sanctuaries. The sanctuaries are closed and are not allowed to be harvested. He has worked with oyster nurseries and other commercial companies before working with VMRC.
Andy has a vision and an excellent work ethic. He didn’t grow up in a family of waterman, he loved being on the water and working the water at a young age. He had a career in advertising and began crabbing on the side. That morphed into buying the old Massey Oil property, then opening a seafood market in the Quonset hut, then building a pavilion, opening a fast casual restaurant, and then the boat fueling station. I’m sure there’s a next phase Andy is working on and I cannot wait for the next experience offered at 3 Rivers Seafood.
If you are in the area, check out 3 Rivers Seafood.