The newly revitalized Dare County Commission for Working Watermen began to take shape on Monday evening at a lightly attended but energized meeting that attracted potential applicants and commission members.
The meeting was presided over by Dare County Commissioner Steve House, who took on the role of point person and county commissioner representative once the commission was re-launched over the summer. The revived interest in the Commission for Working Watermen started with public comments made by journalist and researcher Susan West, who spoke in favor of reactivating the commission at the August 20 meeting of the Dare County Board of Commissioners (BOC.)
The Commission for Working Watermen originally formed in 2008, but quietly ceased meeting in December of 2012 without formally disbanding.
“When it was up and running, the commission definitely served a need, and helped the Board of Commissioners stay ahead of the game,” said West.
West was at Monday evening’s reorganizational meeting, as well as a group of local fishermen and advocates who provided insight into a few key changes to the original guidelines of the commission.
“We’re starting brand new,” Commissioner House told the group early on in the meeting. “The only [concrete] thing is that we’re an advisory group to monitor what’s coming down the road, and to advise us – the Board of Commissioners – on how to address this in Raleigh.”
House also noted that a strong benefit of the upcoming Commission for Working Watermen was that it would bring a new set of voices to the table when it comes to commercial fishing issues on a local and state level.
“The boards and members of [similar] organizations are intermingled,” he said, noting that new players would be involved with the Commission for Working Watermen. “And does that make a difference in Raleigh? Yes it does…. When [the legislators] see that it’s different people, and not the same group, it carries a lot of weight.”
At the start of the meeting, Commissioner House read the Original “Act to Create a Commission to Protect and Enhance the Commercial Fishing Industry in Dare County North Carolina,” which was first drafted for the formation of the commission in 2008.
From there, the assembled group revised some of the more specific points of the commission make-up, and implemented some changes to adapt to the formation of a new commission 10 years later.
One of the biggest changes that was agreed upon by group consensus at the meeting was to eliminate the previous required roles of the commission members. Originally, the seats on the commission were to include a “Charter Fishermen, Ocean Drop Netting, Trawl Boat Industry, Gill Netter / Crabber, Net Fishermen, Fish House / Dealer,” but House noted that the problem with having such specific roles was that if a seat became vacant, it would need to be filled by a specific type of fishermen.
“I don’t know that we need to identify all the different types and roles,” said West. “It’s more important to have high levels of energy and enthusiasm.”
The group also noted that having geographical representation – with fishermen from Hatteras, Wanchese, and other corners of Dare County – was more important than the specific gear or fishing type.
The group did agree to reserve a seat for a fish house dealer who would understand the specifics of the market, and to encourage recreational fishermen to have seats on the commission as well.
“Some people charter fish in the winter, and commercial fish in the winter,” said attendee Sharon Peele Kennedy. “…It overlaps, and it’s all fishing.”
The group also supported the idea of allowing family members or spouses of fishermen on the commission, as well as designating a non-voting advisory seat to a scientist who could explain the research that drives certain pieces of legislation or initiatives.
The group also considered giving a seat to several members of the general public, but recognized that it would water down the make-up of the commission, leaving less seats available for active fishermen. It was also noted that for public feedback, advisory committees could be set up in the future to tackle community outreach, marketing, or other specialized projects where public input is key.
The big takeaway from the meeting was that while the exact positions would change, the need for new and invested voices was essential.
West noted that through her many interviews with fishermen along the East Coast, the next generation of fishermen were actively willing to get involved. “There are a lot of high energy, younger fishermen out there who aren’t oblivious to the challenges, but who want to be engaged,” she said.
“This advisory group is going to advise the Board of Commissioners on what’s best for Dare County,” summed up Commissioner House, “and we want out younger generation to be involved.”
For More Information:
Interested applicants for the Dare County Commission for Working Watermen can download and fill out an application online at https://www.darenc.com/government/advisory-boards-and-committees/application-for-appointment.
Interested commission members are advised to get their applications in as soon as possible, as candidates will be vetted over the next several weeks before recommendations are presented to the Dare County Board of Commissioners, likely at the November 5 meeting.
For more information, contact Commissioner Steve House at 252-216-8985.