State legislators get taste of N.C. commercial fishing bounty

By on May 21, 2016

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Members of the North Carolina General Assembly, their staffs and an assortment of other elected officials and candidates gathered earlier this month in an industrial parking lot in Raleigh for the third annual N.C. Fish Fry and Seafood Sampler.

Close to a dozen organizations representing the commercial fishing industry were on hand to introduce North Carolina’s government leaders to the state’s seafood bounty.

Dare County’s Carl Walker, aka Tom Thumb, was at the center of the seafood feast, serving up beautiful pieces of fried soft shell crab, shrimp, scallops, flounder, tuna bites and oysters.

Raw oysters were also served, as well as small crab cakes, cocktail shrimp, shrimp boil with potatoes and sausage. And for the turf-only crowd, baby back ribs were available an alternative.

But the primary purpose of the feast was to provide a casual backdrop for lawmakers and commercial fishing interests to mingle and educate one another on the issues and political realities.

This gathering has become one of the most important forums for members of the industry to explain the important economic contributions made by the commercial seafood industry, all while battling federal and state regulators, environmental interests, and a well-funded recreational fishing industry which often seeks to reduce commercial catch quotas and restrict harvesting methods.

Sen. Bill Cook (R-Beaufort) and Sen. Norman Sanderson (R-Pamlico) enlightened their colleagues about the economic importance, cultural heritage and threats to the long-term survival of commercial fishermen, and appealed for their support.

C.P. ‘Buster’ Nunemaker, III, recently retired from the N.C. Aquarium at Roanoke Island, addressed the assembled crowd, reciting important economic statistics about North Carolina’s seafood catch, as well as data about jobs and the most important species to the industry.

Capt. Britt Shackleford, president of North Carolina Watermen United was the final speaker to address the crowd and he drove home the point that his organization, and all of the others present did not represent merely those directly engaged in commercial fishing.

“We also represent the consumer of seafood,” Shackleford said, noting their numbers and jobs associated with that industry far exceeded commercial and recreational interest group membership.

He reiterated that people who don’t fish commercially or recreationally consume large amounts of North Carolina seafood, which is shipped across the country and the globe.

After the remarks, members of the commercial industry fanned out among the crowd, answering questions about everything from turtle extruders to shortened flounder seasons and why netting was still an important harvesting tool.

Dare County was well represented by commissioners Beverly Boswell, Wally Overman, Warren Judge, and Chairman Bob Woodard and county manager Bobby Outten.

From Currituck County, commissioner Mike Hall and his wife, Registrar of Deeds Denise Hall, were also in attendance, along with Hyde County manager Bill Rich.

A large Dare County contingent from N.C. Watermen United, Wanchese Seafood and Etheridge Seafood were on hand, as well as a wide assortment of seafood industry representatives, and commercial fishermen and women from up and down the N.C. coast.

Listening to the numerous conversations between the legislators and the commercial industry, it was apparent that not every legislator in attendance was ready to grant the commercial reps their entire wish list.

But new friends were made and this event has built those friendships over the years.

There was one thing everyone agreed upon, at least those who love seafood — fresh, locally sourced North Carolina seafood is among the best in the world.

Tom Thumb contributed greatly to making sure those “inland” lawmakers had a taste, literally and figuratively, of the value of that natural bounty.




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