January 4, 2011

Guest Column: Hatteras Connection is working to ensure a future for island watermen


I remember a time when fish houses rocked to a steady beat of commerce, and the poignant scent of fish money trailed through Hatteras Island’s seven villages.

That seems long ago.  Most of those fish houses have shut their doors, and many of those fishermen have traded in their boots for jobs.

Commercial fishing, as my generation has known it, is disappearing.

But oblivion needn’t be the final destination.
Hatteras Connection, a community-based project dedicated to sustainable economic development and environmental stewardship, is committed to working to ensure a future for new generations of watermen on our island.

Fishing is part of the island’s culture and heritage, and it should be part of our future too.

The harvest of renewable marine resources fits nicely into an economy driven by the principles of sustainability.  Commercial fishing can work hand in glove with emerging economic and social trends, such as the local food movement, eco-economics, cultural tourism, and food security.

Commercial fishing is a green industry that can sustainably produce food indefinitely without causing harm or irreversible damage to the ecosystem.  And, ongoing progress in the development of local markets and in engine efficiency technology promises to reduce the carbon footprint associated with the business.

Hatteras Connection, as its name suggests, is all about building bridges and partnerships with people and organizations that share a vision of healthy coastal economies strengthened by commercial fishing. 

 This summer Hatteras Connection started working with the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum and Heritage Center under a North Carolina Rural Economic Development Center grant called “Sustaining Community and Natural Economies in Coastal North Carolina.”

The two-year, $350,000 grant is being used to develop and implement an asset-based economic development initiative for the unincorporated villages along the Outer Banks National Scenic Byway, from Whalebone Junction to the village of Bettie in Carteret County.

The focus is on growing innovative economic development that enhances and protects the coastal region’s unique cultural and natural resources and the strong sense of place that has supported coastal villages for generations.  The grant is designed to retain jobs, generate supplemental income opportunities, and develop small businesses in natural resource based sectors, especially commercial fishing and eco/heritage tourism. 

Approximately $200,000 will be available for implementing community projects on Hatteras Island, Ocracoke, and Down East, Carteret County.

Some of the major themes to emerge in discussions on Hatteras Island include the need to enhance opportunities for local businesses rooted in our cultural or natural resources, make local seafood work better for the local economy, enhance entrepreneurial opportunities for young people, and explore economic development incubation concepts.

One leg of the research portion of the grant is the Hatteras Island Asset Mapping project.  Residents and visitors are invited to help identify significant cultural, natural, and business assets in our villages. 

The Southern Growth Policies Board 2010 Report called The Road to Recovery is Named Main Street  found that developing a community asset map that identifies community strengths is one the top strategies communities can use in response to the current economic downturn.

More information on asset mapping and other facets of the Rural Center grant project are available at Saltwater Connections.

10Hatteras Connection also has partnered with NC Sea Grant and Cape Hatteras Secondary School of Coastal Studies to create a seafood marketing youth team.

Ten students at the school are developing print, video, audio and social media advertising that explains how buying locally harvested seafood helps sustain the culture and the economy of Hatteras Island and that tells what the commercial fishing industry means to the community.

Advertising products created by the students will be made available to Outer Banks Catch and other programs that are working to educate consumers about seafood availability, local fishing methods, and community fishing heritage. 

Hatteras Connection also supports other seafood marketing initiatives that hold the promise of growing consumer demand for local seafood, diversifying markets, and decreasing dependence on global market fluctuations. 

The project has organized two seafood dinners to support Hatteras Island Meals, Inc. and the Hatteras Island Food Pantry.  Watermen donated fish, local chefs donated culinary talent, and residents and businesses contributed other supplies and labor.  The dinners have raised $5,418 for the charitable food organizations, and collected non-perishable items for the pantry.

Hatteras Connection also set up a system for island fishermen to donate fish weekly to Hatteras Island Meals for lunches delivered to elderly or ill islanders.  In addition to saving the meals program money, the lunches featuring local fish have been popular, especially with older clients who grew up eating trout, bluefish, and Spanish mackerel from our inshore waters.

The project is working with The Conservation Fund on innovative ways to protect working waterfronts on the island.  Commercial docking space is filled to capacity and the closure of another fish house will leave fishermen scrambling for slips.

Hatteras Connection isn’t blind to the very real regulatory and trade issues that are battering our island’s fishing fleet, but we have decided against allowing those challenges to rob us of the resourcefulness that has always served our community.

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