Participants talk regulations, environmental concerns

North Carolina’s First Lady Kristin Cooper helps Harkers Island resident Albert Gaskill onto his boat Saturday morning. (Dean-Paul Stephens photo)

HARKERS ISLAND — North Carolina’s First Lady Kristin Cooper spent her Saturday morning on Harkers Island listening to the concerns of local fishermen on topics ranging from Hurricane Florence recovery to state regulations.

The event was a joint effort between the Crystal Coast Waterkeeper and the White Oak-New Riverkeeper Alliance. Its purpose, according to Larry Baldwin, Crystal Coast waterkeeper, was to bring the needs and concerns of small fishing communities, like those Down East, to the attention of Gov. Roy Cooper.

Event organizers believe that short of speaking directly to the governor himself, speaking to the Ms. Cooper is the best method to do so.

“I had the opportunity to meet with Ms. Cooper, about a year-and-a-half ago, in Raleigh,” Mr. Baldwin said. “She talked about wanting to get out in the state and (I said), ‘We’ve got a place you have to get to.’”

Months after meeting Ms. Cooper, Hurricane Florence made landfall in Carteret County in September 2018, leaving a lasting impact on areas Down East. It’s for this reason Mr. Baldwin said Saturday’s event is of particular importance.

“We wanted kind of a listening, conversation-type thing,” Mr. Baldwin said. “Just for her to get to know and get to hear a little bit about Down East and the fishing community down here.”

Adam Tyler, Lauren Salter, Sandra Gaskill and Bradley Styron were the speakers at Saturday’s event, while Mr. Baldwin directed the conversation with different topics. After a brief introduction, they dove in by giving their opinion on the most pressing issues facing the region. coastline erosion and inlets were the consensus among the four speakers.

“We lost a lot of trees in the Down East community there,” Mr. Tyler said. “Nearly hundreds of thousands of dead trees.”

Ms. Gaskill said trees provide an important service to the ecosystem, such as bolstering the area from erosion.

“I think the loss of our trees and (the erosion) of the borders that we have is a big factor,” said Ms. Gaskill, who also touched on Hurricane Dorian’s impact on Ocracoke Island.

“I know Ocracoke got it really bad,” she said of the storm that brushed up the East Coast early this month.

Mr. Styron said inlets, like Beaufort, are necessary for fishing communities like Harkers Island. He added that with the state’s waters flowing eastward toward the sea, it’s easy to blame Carteret County and other coastal communities for pollution.

“We’re inundated with everything from the western part of the state,” Mr. Styron said. “They like to put the blame on us, but it’s hard to blame the people at the bottom for what’s going on at the top.”

Other speakers touched on pollution, as well.  

“Water quality is really, really important to me,” Mr. Tyler said, adding that as an oyster harvester, his livelihood is dependent on the quality of local waters.

Ms. Gaskill said as regulations continue to discourage fishermen from fishing, regulators overlook how the workers positively impact the environment.

“In 2019, the grass (along some coastlines) is dead, it’s gone,” Ms. Gaskill said. “I think, with all my heart, pollution (is to blame). A commercial fisherman is like a farmer. If you’re a farmer, you’re clearing that land. And a fisherman is a farmer of the water.”

Hurricane Florence also impacted fishing in the area.

“I’m not a fisherman … but I observed that it takes a lot to rebuild what you lose,” Ms. Salter said. “It’s one of the biggest challenges for fishermen.”

Mr. Styron agreed, adding that part of the community is still working to recover.

“Florence had a devastating effect,” Mr. Styron said. “We had a lot of structural damage and some that hasn’t been repaired yet. It does take a toll.”  

Ms. Salter and other speakers said the storm showed how resilient the area is, adding that “the silver lining is you get to see people at their best.”

Ms. Gaskill agreed.

“We were 11 days without electricity,” Ms. Gaskill said. “There were so many, many people that came in to help.”

Ms. Cooper also took the microphone and addressed the bulk of the topics. She said she and her family, while not from Carteret County, enjoy coming to the area.

She also said she and her husband understand the importance of the fishing industry both to Carteret County and the rest of the state and understand the implications of Hurricane Florence.  

“It used to be that you would have hurricanes like this once a generation,” Ms. Cooper said. “You could have the rest of your life recovering from it. It takes years to recover from it, it does take years and years.”

In regards to environmental concerns, Ms. Cooper said the governor shares many of the local worries.

“We’re doing our best right now, clean water and clean air are huge priorities for us right now,” Ms. Cooper said.

She also addressed concerns about new state regulations designed to drastically reduce fishing of staples like flounder.

“I don’t know if it helps to know that you guys are important to our economy…not just for fishing but for our tourism economy,” Ms. Cooper said.

After the event, Ms. Cooper met local fisherman Albert Gaskill and toured his vessel.

“We need some help down here,” Mr. Gaskill said. “I try to protect the water. I don’t want to kill everything in the water.”

Ms. Cooper said she plans on relaying all that was discussed to the governor.

“I appreciate what you shared,” Ms. Cooper said. “I learned a lot and I’ll take it back to Raleigh.”

Contact Dean-Paul Stephens at 252-726-7081, ext. 232; email; or follow on Twitter @DeanPEStephens.

(10) comments


This is normal BS, For our state they only want to help the ones who don't want to help them selves. So lets just give them free money and bend all the rules for them. The commercial fishermen are not regulated enough!! They have depleted every stock they fish! From Oysters to crabs to Every fin fish in the waters.


So the Commercial Fishermen is worth some where around a billion dollars to North Carolina ! But the Recreational Fishermen is worth almost 10 times that so lets help the one we don't make as much from!! The state sure don't help the working class like they do the freeloaders !!!!!!


Shut them both down, now! [yawn] Problem solved! Your welcome. [whistling]


Funny someone said shut them both down. They have almost shut the rec fishermen down with the catch limits they have. Not like the commercial fishermen who in most cases has no catch limit at all.

Core Sounder

That's strange beachman, As a commercial gill netter I have not been allowed to catch or sell a flounder this year in southern core sound. Its suppose to open for a few weeks on Oct 1 for commercials like myself but would not count on it.


Core Sounder what is you limit on flounder???? All you have is a size limit! But you have no catch limit! So if the southern core sound was closed to you or any part of the coastal waters was closed to you, that just means you fished in a different area!! So you where catching them in other areas !! My only problem is this. If the flounder stock is so bad that a rec fisherman cant catch one to eat how can it be vibrant enough for you to catch all you want to sell?? And if the stock is so poor that the DMF wants to lower the catch limit on The Recreational fishermen or stop them for fishing for them how can the Commercial Fishermen be allowed to harvest with not catch limits ??


Well beachman, guess the 'recs' might want to get commercial license's ??????? (then they to can enjoy all the great benefits of the entire industry! ) Your welcome, problem solved! [whistling]


DeadBolt Funny you would say this a study by North Carolina Sea Grant Fishery Resource Grant back a few years ago, found that only 53 % of the commercial fishing license are held by Commercial fishermen. The other 47% is held by Rec fishermen. So it wont be much longer when the rec fishermen will hold half the commercial license's. Once that happens they cant start asking for rule changes that will cripple the real commercial fishermen. So in short becareful for what you wish for!! That is happening faster than you think now!


Well, if the numbers you indicated are accurate, then why are you complaining? Your one of those that seems not to accept the FACTS, that #1 these regulations have HURT EVERYONE, and #2 now, the one side you were on is being adversely affected, you see the long term unintended consequence's , # 3 making claims that the commercial industry is better off now????? BS. (i remember this place to have abundant catches , but thats another topic), #4 there are more SHARKS in the waters now then i ever remember, indicating AMPLE FOOD SUPPLY, or they would not be here. You cannot have it both ways, sorry. Now we are back to my other comment, SHUT THEM BOTH DOWN FOR A PERIOD! Then we have an even field to start from, and everybody gets a great big bite of the ...sandwich! [yawn]

(Edited by staff.)


DeadBolt Beachman is right what he is saying if the stock is so bad that rec fishermen can only keep 1 or 2 fish. How is stable enough for the comm fishermen to catch unlimited amount? As for your ...questions here try this. #1 yes the rules has hurt all but it has been harder on the rec fishermen, If not show me where they are only allowed 1 fish ? #2 You can look up all the harvest reports and you well see the comm fishermen land just as much and in most cases more fish than the rec fishermen do! Now there is only around 6,000 comm fishermen and there is around 400,000 rec fishermen!! Do the math if 6,000 comm fishermen lands just as much and in some cases more than 4000,000 rec fishermen do you know who is doing the most damage to the fish stocks! #3 The comm fishermen are way better than the rec fishermen are! And yes i bet you do! That is the biggest problem they Over fished the stocks until they where almost depleted, Then cry because they cant catch fish. And its all the rec fishermen s fault! ( Well they rec fishermen don't land that much scallops, clams, oysters, crabs, and all these too have been in trouble too!!! ) Ok i will stop there that one could go on for a while! #4 Have you thought there maybe more sharks in the water now because there is less fish in the water so they have to come inshore more and more to find food? And if there is fish every where like you and some other want every one to believe why are the comm fishermen crying about not catching fish like they use too? (So in your words you cant have it both ways sorry, Ether they are there or they are not) And for your close them both down i say OK!!! But only rec fishermen are being shut down!! It is simple if a comm fishermen can land all the flounder he can. Why cant a rec fishermen land a few also? It is all one reason MONEY the comm fishermen do it for money the rec fishermen do it for food!!

(Edited by staff.)

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