Photo: Don Acree/Fisherman Creations
Don Acree and Mary Smith this year took over crab-pot maker Neal "Nicky" Harvey's burgeoning crab-pot Christmas-tree business, selling more than $150,000 worth of converted crab pots strung with lights. Acree says many buyers, who just like the modernist look of the green mesh trees, are unaware of the design's waterlogged origins.
But there's no mistaking a crab pot in Down East North Carolina, where the crabbing industry was once a leading source of jobs. As recently as 1998, the state's fishermen harvested 63 million blue crabs; last year, they caught barely half as many. Unable to fend off threats posed by pollution, rising fuel costs and the global market, dozens of crab houses shut down over the past decade. "The state's blue crab industry is in serious trouble, if it isn't dead already," Harvey's hometown paper, the Carteret County News-Times, reported in 2008.
Harvey, who once sold 3000 crab pots a season from his single-wide trailer, was lucky if he could unload 300 pots a year. So the craftsman decided to reconfigure his sheets of wire into four-foot tall Christmas trees. He soon gave up on his line of pots.
"He improved it so it was a collapsible tree," Acree explains. "Once he hit on that, he said 'I think that's patentable'."
Acree and Smith have expanded Harvey's original sales territory to include a long strip of Atlantic coast from South Carolina to Maryland.
"Once somebody sees it, that's what really sells them," Acree says. "When we go talk to customers without a tree in our hand, they're thinking about a bunch of crab pots stacked on top of each other."
Instead, the crab pot tree looks like a tangle of chicken wire, sculpted into a neat pointed cylinder. Acree and Smith now offer trees in a variety of sizes, with prices starting at $29.99, and are urging to buyers to bring their trees indoors – something only five percent of crab-pot Christmas-tree owners currently do.
"People who have them indoors love them," Acree says. "You can hang nautical ornaments. And when you're done, it takes just a minute or two to fold it up and hang it on a nail in your garage for next year."