Livelihoods on the line: The impact of the fishing industry on eastern NC


MOREHEAD CITY, N.C. (WNCT) – Everywhere you go in eastern North Carolina, you’ll see signs of fresh seafood and folks selling local catch at reasonable prices.

The question is, how hard is it for those fishermen whose lives depend on the waters of North Carolina?

“This community has always depended on the water and the fish for their livelihoods,” said Capt. Bill Dillon of Beagle Charters in Morehead City.

Eastern North Carolina is home to some of the largest seafood festivals, fishing tournament and tourism dollars in the state. Those who work in the fishing industry say their livelihoods are on the line.

“They’re not only on the line, I mean people’s livelihoods have changed and been shut down because of it,” said charter mate Michael Tickle.

Many fishermen 9 On Your Side spoke with agree that federal regulations have made it more difficult to cast their nets. From recreational sport fishermen to commercial fishermen, the consensus is the same.

“The past seven or eight years have been very difficult and if it continues in the direction its going now it’s going to become more difficult,” said Capt. Dale Britt.

“A lot of your commercial fishermen are getting out of it because of the regulations. They can’t make any money anymore,” said Patrick Finn with White Oak River Seafood.

“The bills are still going to come to your mailbox. They’ve lost their homes; they’ve lost their vehicles because they can’t fish anymore,” said Capt. Bill.

How did this happen?

The North Carolina Divisions of Marine Fisheries say the restrictions are mainly due to over-fishing, but fishermen say data used for these regulations are inaccurate.

“You almost need a lawyer when you go fishing,” said Tickle. “It’s one of the most heavily-regulated industries and it’s put a lot of small towns here, especially down in East Carteret County, it’s not shut them down, but it’s definitely hurt the community because that’s what everyone was here to do.”

One of those federal regulations affects a big summer business in the East.

“Biggest thing that’s going to affect the local area is [the] restriction on cobia. And cobia seems to be very bountiful in North Carolina and right now. They’re getting ready to shut it down,” said Capt. Thomas Wood.

The new laws go into effect on June 20. They would limit cobia to two fish per boat, rather than the one fish per person. Fishermen say this would drastically cut into their profit margins.

Fishermen feel lawmakers aren’t looking out for them and their contributions to the local economy.

“Everybody depends on money off the water here in this community and it seems like they forgot that,” said Capt. Bill Dillon.

This is why they say only one option exists.

“We got to get it in the summer just as the restaurants and the hotels and everything. We have a short season down here, so we got to take advantage of it,” said Capt. Wood.

Despite the regulations and many odds thrown against them, fishermen agree, “A bad day fishing is a better than any day at the office,’ said Capt. Bill.

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