July 3, 2019
TO THE EDITOR:
I spent 20+ years working for the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) in hopes of rebuilding depleted fish stocks and providing a healthy resource for all to enjoy and support our coastal economies. The failure of our county leadership, past and present, to support meaningful fisheries reform and programs may be at its zenith.
The early college, MaST program, appears to be just the latest in the crosshairs of our short sighted and uninformed county leadership. As a brief background, the commercial fishery as we know it has declined for decades and is going out of business. Fish stocks have declined to historically low levels and many claim this is the result of regulations and the “boogey man du jour.” The fisheries that anchored the Carteret County fishing economy such as blue crab, spot, croaker and southern flounder have no limits on the quantity that can be harvested and most have no size limits. Efforts to rebuild these stocks and return Carteret County to its historical glory as a fishing community and destination have met resistance at every turn.
Proposed fisheries regulations are consistently met with disdain and objection by the County Board of Commissioners, believing they are protecting the few commercial jobs left. For example, the state had the opportunity to reduce harvest of southern flounder by 30% in 2006 and rebuild this most valuable finfish fishery by 2016. By doing essentially nothing since 2006, due in part to political pressures, the stock has continued to decline and remains severely depleted. The reduction in harvest now needed to rebuild the stock is 72%. Talk about going out of business. This was avoidable, but any semblance of science based justifications to help our declining resources has been rejected by the Carteret County Board of Commissioners.
One of my new jobs since retiring from DMF is to support and develop programs to enhance domestic aquaculture production for the U.S. East Coast from Maine to Florida. While the U.S. lags behind many countries, North Carolina is poised to make great inroads into this multi-billion-dollar industry. From my experience, some of the finest water quality and locations for such growth is Carteret County, specifically Down East Carteret County. We have the opportunities in our grasp, but as usual, they are slipping as a result of short sighted concerns within both our Board of Commissioners and Board of Education.
The expertise and infrastructure for a renaissance in fisheries production in Carteret County exists through Carteret Community College, North Carolina State University at CMAST in Morehead City, UNC Institute of Marine Science and the aquaculture experts at the National Ocean Service in Beaufort that produce. These institutions provide state-of-the-art aquaculture science, methods and support to our state and nation.
The development of private aquaculture businesses, associated with this extraordinary support system, however, lags behind in large part due to a lack of any trained workforce. Waterfront property and access was purchased by the state on Cedar Island to build a production hatchery for shellfish in 2008. Local scientists have received nearly half a million dollars in competitive grant competitions in the last year to develop methods to enhance production. Private investors are looking for prospects. The money and opportunities are here for the taking.
Who would invest in, or recommend someone enter, commercial fishing in our state waters? Not many. Clearly, the fisheries of this state, particularly in Carteret County, have declined and dramatically impacted our local fishing communities. With well paying jobs at a premium in this county, particularly Down East, what may be a once in a lifetime opportunity may again be lost. The blame will lie squarely on the shoulders of the Carteret County Board of Commissioners with aid from a majority on the Board of Education.
The early college, MaST, is a unique program that provides state-of-the-art aquaculture training and educational opportunities to our young people. Further, MaST harnesses the unique opportunities provided by the many institutions in the area that focus on this subject.
Due to the insight of Carteret Community College and local educators, we stand on the verge of a national leadership role in this developing arena. The MaST program, in part, addresses the critical workforce needs, providing training and understanding of aquaculture methods and processes unique, perhaps, in the nation. Ideally, these talented young people will take their skills and abilities Down East, or elsewhere, and revive a stagnant community once dependent on the natural marine resources of our state.
Due to the lack of insight and county leadership, however, along with the opaque political dealings by some in county leadership, we are going to throw away this opportunity in exchange for local deals to buy tires and cut grass, and to raise the salary for these same commissioners. I hope we expect different as a proud fishing community.
If you support MaST, please take the time to write or call these Board of Commissioners and Board of Education members and express your support in a sincere and respectful manner. Let them know you are watching and that your vote matters. If you don’t support MaST now, commissioners, please stop complaining about the lack of jobs and opportunities because you may have just blown the best opportunity we have had to revive our county economy in decades. The money will go elsewhere — and that would be a shame.
DR. LOUIS DANIEL