MOREHEAD CITY — Commercial fishermen work with many odds stacked against them: dangerous storms, poor fishing conditions and ever-changing fishing rules and regulations, and yet they persist.

The fishermen’s willingness to risk their lives on the open water to make a living providing fresh seafood is why the Blessing of the Fleet ceremony weighs heavily on the community’s heart.

This year’s ceremony was held Sunday at the N.C. State Port of Morehead City. It marks the 21st annual event after last year’s Blessing was canceled due to Hurricane Florence’s lasting impact on the county in mid-September 2018, especially to the fishing community.

“We are from here and our families are commercial fishermen,” Carrie Ricks of Beaufort said when asked why she attends the festival.

Tracy Morris of Atlantic agreed.

“This is what it’s all about in eastern North Carolina,” she said. “It’s our backbone.”

“We are one big family,” Ms. Ricks echoed.

“It’s our heritage,” Ms. Morris added. “The service makes me cry.”

The service included prayer, scripture readings and songs, as well as comments about the commercial fishing industry from members of the community.

Mitch Gay, 2019 N.C. Seafood Festival chairman, said he was honored to be a part of the ceremony.

“I am honored to have this opportunity to participate in this solemn and reverent remembrance of those who’ve made the commercial fishing industry what it is today,” he said. “This is a time when our community comes together to honor the industry, the lives lost, the families of those individuals, and the the commercial fishing industry, certainly understands all the dangers of the sea and the challenges their loved ones face each day on the water.”

County Commissioner Jonathan Robinson spoke on behalf of the Carteret County Fishermen’s Association.

“I am particularly honored and pleased to be here,” he said. “I grew up in a family surrounded by fishermen and a community full of fishermen. I sought their approval, so I have always been a fisherman. I feel like I’m a fisherman now, and I hope that when I pass, I will be remembered as a fisherman.”

He thanked all those involved with the ceremony, as well as county commissioners, who proclaimed Oct. 6 Commercial Fishing Day in Carteret County and voiced support for North Carolina fishermen.

Pastor Dell Murphy with Harkers Island Pentecostal Holiness Church gave this year’s Blessing of the Fleet message and prayer.

Pastor Murphy said he grew up in New Bern, but spent most of his childhood out on the water. His father would net fish and shrimp trawl. Pastor Murphy himself holds a commercial fishing license.

“The Lord called on me to be a fisherman of men first, and then secondly, I am a fisherman of fish,” he said.

He said the community gathered at the ceremony to give tribute to those who spend their time on the water, especially commercial fishermen.

“I give honor and tribute to our commercial fishermen and ladies, both those who passed on and those who are still with us today,” he said. “It gives me great joy and a sense of pride when I see boats headed out to the fishing grounds and a sense of relief that they have made it home.”

The title of his message was “Peace be Still.” He quoted the Bible, Mark, Chapter 4, verse 35-41.

Pastor Murphy said life may become hard at times, but as long as they call on Jesus, he will help them through the hard times.

After the Blessing of the Fleet message and prayer, a ceremonial wreath was tossed into the water. The tossing of the wreath honored those commercial fishermen who have died over the years.

Following the tossing of the wreath, a boat processional signified the end of the ceremony.

Contact Megan Soult at 252-726-7081, ext. 228; email megan.soult@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @meganCCNT.

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