Jacqueline Moore serves a spicy pita pocket with fresh local shrimp from the St. Egbert Catholic Church food kiosk Saturday at the 33rd annual N.C. Seafood Festival on the Morehead City waterfront. (Dylan Ray photo)

MOREHEAD CITY — After a year’s hiatus, the N.C. Seafood Festival returned Friday and Saturday, and with a dedicated board of directors and volunteers working around the clock to make the event successful, organizers said it was stronger than ever.

This year marked the 33rd annual celebration of “seafun” along the Morehead City waterfront.

Last year’s event was canceled after the county took a blow from Hurricane Florence, which hit the area mid-September 2018.

Despite last year’s break, crowds packed the waterfront Saturday as festival attendees enjoyed games, rides, different vendors and local seafood.

“Things are going well. We are off to a great start,” 2019 Festival Chairman Mitch Gay said. “A lot of vendors had a very good Friday. I think the road race (the Triple Bridge Road Race, a new event this year held Saturday morning) was good. People enjoyed it, and we had about 210 to 220 people in it.”

During the festival, attendees could stop by different locations within the festival’s footprint to enjoy seafood based activities — all of it a celebration of local seafood, the commercial fishing industry and a tribute to the state’s vibrant coastline.

Among the vendors set up was artist Catherine Olander, who is this year’s commemorative poster artist. Her work now adorns the back of this year’s official festival T-shirt.

She said seeing her work spread throughout the festival was an amazing feeling.

“Last week on my way to church I saw two people walking with my design on the shirt,” she said. “People have been so receptive. They say they love the title. It looks so great and cheerful and happy. It’s been exciting.”

As well as her commemorative poster, Ms. Olander was selling other pieces of her artwork on canvases, along with matted prints and more. She said a portion of her proceeds were going to the North Carolina Jaycee Burn Center in Chapel Hill.

Hitting up the vendors throughout the weekend was a throng of families enjoying the festivities.

Alison Willis of Mr. Big Seafood on Harkers Island brought her daughter and some school friends to partake in the fun.

“The girls wanted to come ride the rides and we supply some seafood for local vendors,” Ms. Willis said. “So it was two birds with one stone. The girls get to have fun and we get to check on our vendors.”

Among those serving Mr. Big Seafood was Seaside Sensations Catering Service of Morehead City.

The company was selling fried shrimp, crab cakes, soft crab, shrimp cocktail and shrimp burgers, as well as seafood French fries, a dish that is comprised of French fries topped with Old Bay seasoning.

For Sara Willis, there is nothing more important than serving local seafood.

“My father was a commercial fisherman,” she said. “He also had a seafood market. That’s all I do is local seafood. Nothing else.”

William and Cindy Bailey of Cary were enjoying the shrimp cocktail from Seaside Sensations Saturday.  

“I can’t eat fried food, but we want to do local,” Ms. Bailey said.

The couple is in the process of building a house in Beaufort and came to the area specifically for the Seafood Festival.

A number of celebrities also attended the event.

It is tradition for Miss North Carolina to attend the N.C. Seafood Festival and fling and kiss the flounder, signifying another year of successful celebration.

This year’s Miss North Carolina, Alexandra Badgett, said she was excited to be at the festival and it was her first time in Morehead City.

This year, Ms. Badgett will be kissing a rubber flounder, as organizers were trying to be conscious of current fishing regulations.

Ms. Badgett had no planned techniques when it came to the famous flounder fling, but she was eager to try.

“I have no idea what I’m about to get myself into,” she said. “I’m just going to fling it.”

The festival wrapped up Sunday with the Blessing of the Fleet, the Babes and Bubbles event and other activities, such as the Cooking with the Chefs tent cooking demonstrations.

Contact Megan Soult at 252-726-7081, ext. 228; email; or follow on Twitter @meganCCNT.

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