June 11, 2008

Dare’s new Commission for Working Watermen will address commercial fishing issues


County commissioner Mike Johnson said the newly formed Dare County Commission for Working Watermen could serve as a pathway for building similar efforts in other North Carolina counties.

“Once we get going and can speak to the problems, we will be able to go to other counties and build a strong coastal coalition quickly,” said Johnson, chairman of the new commission.

“There’s already interest in Hyde County in what we are doing,” he said in a telephone interview.

The Commission for Working Watermen (CWW) is charged with developing, cultivating, conserving, and protecting the county’s fishing industry.

That responsibility might be described as Herculean at a time when high fuel prices, increasing marketplace competition from imported seafood, and a tangled web of state and federal fishing restrictions threaten the industry. 

But Dare County watermen are a tenacious lot, and the fishermen serving on the CWW seem undaunted by the task.

“This commission opens another door for finding solutions,” said CWW member Mikey Daniels, a commercial fisherman who also serves on the state fisheries commission.

“Times aren’t good for anyone working on the water, but I’m confident we’ll figure out ways to help different types of fishermen.  We’re all in this together. We’re all in the same boat,” he said.

CWW will advise the Dare County Board of Commissioners on rules and regulations that impact the fishing industry and will recommend actions for the board to consider.

Jamie Reibel, CWW vice-chairman and captain of the charter-boat Phideaux, said he thought it fitting that Dare County has taken the lead in addressing issues of concern to watermen.

“Dare County stands to lose more, economically and culturally, than any other county if the state’s fishing industry collapses,” Reibel said.

The county is the major seafood producing county in the state, with landings exceeding 21.8 million pounds in 2007, and is also home to a legendary charter-fishing industry.

The CWW has tentatively decided to meet every two weeks.

“But it could be that we’ll want to meet more frequently as we get involved with an issue,” Johnson said.

He said the CWW would begin identifying and prioritizing issues at the next meeting.

Johnson encouraged watermen in the county to attend CWW meetings or to contact CWW members.

In addition to Johnson, Daniels, and Reibel, Kelly Schoolcraft, Dewey Hemilright, and Phil Ray Haywood serve on the commission. 

Meeting notices will be posted on the calendar at the Dare County Web site (www.co.dare.nc.us), in local newspapers, and on Ahab’s Journal (www.ahabsjournal.typepad.com ), the Outer Banks Sentinel’s commercial fishing industry blog.

The next CWW meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, June 17, at 7 p.m., at the Dare County Administrative Annex in Manteo.


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