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Working Watermen Commission Reorganizes

From an Island Free Press report.

Dare County Commissioner Steve House listens to feedback on reorganizing the Commission for Working Watermen. Photo: Joy Christ

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 board representative once the commission was relaunched 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 Aug. 20 meeting of the Dare County Board of Commissioners.

The Commission for Working Watermen originally formed in 2008, but ceased meeting in December 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 re-organizational 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,” 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 the reformed panel would include new voices on commercial fishing issues at the local and state levels.

“The boards and members of (similar) organizations are intermingled,” he said, noting that new players would be involved with the commission. “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.”

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.

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 agreed 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.

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 agreed that would water down the commission’s makeup, leaving fewer seats available for fishermen.

While the exact positions will change, the need for new and invested voices is essential, many agreed.

West noted that through her many interviews with fishermen along the East Coast, the next generation of fishermen is 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.

Interested candidates are advised to get their applications in as soon as possible, as they will be vetted over the next several weeks before recommendations are presented to the Dare County Board of Commissioners, likely at the Nov. 5 meeting.

For more information, contact Commissioner House at 252-216-8985.

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This story is provided courtesy of the Island Free Press, a digital newspaper covering Hatteras and Ocracoke islands. Coastal Review Online is partnering with the Free Press to provide readers with more environmental and lifestyle stories of interest along our coast. 

About the Author

Joy Crist

Joy Crist is a Hatteras Island resident since 1998 and a writer and columnist with the Island Free Press. Her work has also appeared in a number of regional Outer Banks and statewide websites and publications.