Kathy Rawls, the Director of the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries (NCDMF), paid a visit to Cape Point in Buxton on Wednesday afternoon, as part of a multi-pronged mission to reach out to the local community, answer questions and collect feedback, and provide educational information on both the NCDMF and the seasonal star of the fishing scene, red drum.
The spring and fall months are the peak seasons for drum fishing, and NCDMF Communications Director Patricia Smith said that it was a series of recent photos of red drum being caught off of Cape Point that inspired the trip.
“Our director really wanted to get out and meet some folks – she has a real initiative for public outreach,” said Smith. “And after seeing the photos of the red drum fishing happening here, this seemed like a great opportunity.”
Rawls became the new director of the NCDMF in May of 2021, although she had been with the Division for more than 25 years, serving as the Fisheries Management Section Chief for the past seven years.
She is the first woman to head the agency since the Fisheries Commission Board became the Division of Commercial Fisheries in the late 1920s, and she’s also the first NCDMF Director to make an in-person trip to Cape Point to talk with local anglers about their questions and concerns.
“There are lots of people who may not attend our meetings, or they may not necessarily call the office to talk about fisheries management issues in our state,” said Rawls. “So I thought this was a good opportunity to get out and meet people face-to-face, and just have conversations about our fisheries, what we’re doing, and to address any concerns that they may have.”
Rawls also came armed with bags of information to hand out to the anglers at Cape Point, which included educational materials as well as fishing gear. NCDMF staff were also on hand to tag any red drum caught off the Point that afternoon, but a recent wind switch led to less-than-favorable fishing conditions, and there were few, (if any), drum catches on Wednesday.
Red drum is the state saltwater fish of North Carolina, and the species are can grow to more than 50 inches in length, weigh over 70 pounds, and can live for 40 years or more. Red drum are extremely resilient when handled and released properly, and tagged red drum have even been captured after being at large for more than 20 years.
And when it comes to surf fishing for red drum, there is arguably no better launching point on the East Coast than Cape Point.
“I think people really enjoy coming to North Carolina to fish, and some folks come religiously for one thing – red drum,” said Rawls. “We think it’s important that folks enjoy coming to our state, and can come to our state and say, ‘Man, I caught a lot of fish when I visited North Carolina, and I can’t wait to go back.’”
This may have been Rawls’ first visit to Cape Point as NCDMF Director, but she is very familiar with Hatteras Island. “I spent my summers down here as a kid – my parents have a cottage down in Hatteras village – so I come here quite a bit,” she said. “There can literally be hundreds of fishermen out here [on Cape Point], arm to arm, and it can get really hectic when the fish are biting…. This area holds the really hardcore red drum fishermen.”
Although the Point was relatively unpopulated on their Wednesday afternoon visit, Rawls and the NCDMF team say that the trek from Morehead City to Buxton was worth the effort.
“For me as the director, one of the focuses is on outreach and communication, and being better at telling the story of the Division of Marine Fisheries and what we do, and sharing that with the public,” said Rawls. “We have been eager to get out and talk to stakeholders, and meet people in person [like on the Cape Point beach]. We’ve had these opportunities before, but have not taken advantage of them, so we are looking forward to doing this more often, and in different places as well.”