August 7, 2008

Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate meets with local watermen


Kay Hagan left Wanchese on Saturday evening, Aug. 2, with a new pair of ruby red slippers and a standing invitation to go shrimping on a commercial trawler.

Hagan, state senator from Greensboro and Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Elizabeth Dole, was in town for a roundtable discussion with fishermen at Fishermen’s Wharf Restaurant.

Mike Davenport, chairman of the Dare County Oregon Inlet and Waterways Commission, gave Hagan the ruby red slippers, a familiar campaign prop that symbolizes Hagan’s intent to send Dole back to Kansas after November.

“Liddy Dole doesn’t live in North Carolina, and she doesn’t work for us,” said Hagan in her opening comments at the restaurant.

“I already know that Wanchese tuna is the best I’ve ever eaten, thanks to Melissa,” she said, turning towards Chuckie and Janie Midgett, whose daughter Melissa is on Hagan’s campaign staff.

But Hagan said she wasn’t in Wanchese to give a stump speech, but to learn more about the federal issues that concern fishermen.

Commercial fisherman Dewey Hemilright told the candidate that he and other fishermen had traveled to Washington to meet with federal representatives.

“Our representatives and their aides seem to feel our pain at those meetings.  But all we get is a good reaction, with no action, and nothing ever changes,” he said.

Hemilright and other fishermen said the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, the legislative framework that governs management measures, including fishing regulations, set by National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and eight regional councils, needs revision.

Commercial and recreational fishermen have said that NMFS and the management councils have set unrealistic and unobtainable population size goals for some fish stocks in U.S. waters.  They also believe a rigid stock rebuilding schedule will have devastating socioeconomic impacts on fishing communities like Wanchese.

“If Congress won’t help us, our only recourse is to go to court, and we don’t have that kind of money and NMFS knows that,” Hemilright said.

Mike Davenport told Hagan that the federal government had broken a promise to adequately fund dredging at Oregon Inlet.

“We get lots of lip service and promises but every year we get less money for dredging,” Davenport said, adding that the $4.1 million budgeted for dredging this year wasn’t enough to keep the inlet open to commercial and recreational boat traffic.

“This inlet is the fishermen’s highway, and it is filled full of sand.  Some boats carry their catch up to Hampton (Virginia) rather than risk coming in here,” he explained.

Hagan described the North Carolina fishing industry as “home-grown businesses,” during the discussion.

“And, the lobbyists are going to be knocking on your door in Washington, saying, ‘We’re worth more than those little guys down in Wanchese,’ ” Hemilright predicted.

He said fishermen would prefer to know straight-out if access to U.S. marine resources will be restricted to “the wealthy elite,” rather than be strung along by false hope.

“The local feeling is that we are losing a way of life,” summarized Fletcher Willey, a long-time Dare County Democratic Party activist.

“I’ve listened, I’ve heard, and I will take action,” promised Hagan.

After the roundtable discussion, Hagan toured Wanchese Seafood Company with owner Mikey Daniels, who invited the candidate to go shrimping on one of his family’s trawlers.

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