August 7, 2008

State’s commercial fishermen are being paid less pay for their catches


Fishermen told state Rep. Tim Spear that spiny dogfish management issues are symptomatic of broader problems in North Carolina fisheries, during the July 29 meeting of the Dare County Commission for Working Watermen.

Dewey Hemilright, a Kitty Hawk resident who fishes out of Wanchese and serves on the Commission for Working Watermen (CWW), said state fisheries officials acknowledge that an East Coast dogfish management plan has short-changed the state’s commercial fishing industry since 2002.

“But what we aren’t hearing from the state is, ‘Boys, we have to get you back fishing,’ “ Hemilright told Spear.

Several watermen said they have been disappointed also with the state’s level of involvement in snowy grouper and coastal shark management issues that, they said, penalized North Carolina fishermen.

CWW member Kelly Schoolcraft said North Carolina doesn’t support its fishing industry the way states like Massachusetts and Alaska support theirs.

“I need to know what the history has been, where the disconnect has been, and then be prepared to change things,” said Spear.

Commission members noted that state fisheries managers, representatives on federal fisheries boards, and elected officials too often don’t do enough to protect the interests of the state’s watermen. 

“It is sort of a total breakdown,” said CWW chairman and Dare County commissioner Mike Johnson.

Spear said he would arrange a meeting with Louis Daniel, director of the state Division of Marine Fisheries, Dare County commissioners, and the CWW.

“We need to see what we can do from this point forward to change the mindset you’ve described,” Spear said.

Still, Spear cautioned that resolution of many of the issues identified by the CWW rest squarely with the governor.

“A lot depends on how much of an advocate the governor and the people he appoints are for your industry,” he said.

CWW member Mikey Daniels noted that Governor Mike Easley has not shown interest in the issues important to the commercial fishing industry, a situation Daniels doesn’t expect to change as Easley’s term draws to a close. 

“We’re frustrated. It’s like we’re poison,” Daniels said.

Daniels and other CWW members agreed that the lack of support shown by the state raises doubts over the future of the commercial fishing industry.

“Yes, I support your efforts, and, yes, we need the commercial fishing industry, and I’m not just saying that,” responded Spear.

He added that he has introduced or supported legislation giving the commercial and charter-boat industries more representation on state boards, providing property tax relief to waterfront land used by commercial fishermen, and authorizing funds to protect public waterfront properties.

Spear said a strong coastal coalition in the General Assembly could effectively address legislative and policy issues.

CWW chairman Mike Johnson reported that the commission resolution requesting a dedicated 1.3 million pound spiny dogfish quota for North Carolina was approved by the Dare County Board of Commissioners and had been sent to other coastal boards for consideration.

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