‘She made sure Hatteras was at the table’

By on November 14, 2022

Remembering fishing advocate and writer Susan West

Susan West.

Susan West, a long-time advocate for the Hatteras Island fishing community and a writer who helped foster improved communications and respect between regulators and fishermen, died on Nov. 10 at age 73.

“She made sure that Hatteras and those small fishing communities were never left out of the conversation,” recalled Karen Willis Amspacher, director of the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum and Heritage Center on Harkers Island. “She made sure Hatteras was at the table.”

Amspacher fondly remembers being able to pick up the phone to talk to her friend at 4:30 a.m. and engage in long conversations.

“She was the person I would call when I needed clarity and rational thought,” she said. “She understood people and she understood her community.”

West passed away unexpectedly on Thursday at Outer Banks Hospital from complications from cancer treatment, said Sara Mirabilio, Fisheries Extension Specialist North Carolina Sea Grant.

“She was a dear friend, personally and professionally,” she said, adding that besides working on fisheries issues together, they had a close bond as breast cancer survivors.

West has been a part of Mirabilio’s life since she started working in 2003 at Sea Grant, she said. “As a writer, as an activist, she was really good at bringing issues to life,” Mirabilio said. “She was definitely an advocate for the industry…yet her demeanor was very calming and inclusive.”

As a young transplant to the Outer Banks from Baltimore, the course of West’s life was set after meeting Rob West, a surfer from Long Island, when they worked together at a Hatteras restaurant in the 1970s. After they married, Rob became a commercial fishermen.

In the early ‘90s, as tensions started rising around commercial fishing, Susan decided to organize a local women’s auxiliary group to the North Carolina Fisheries Association. For West, a graduate of Towson State University who had worked for the Maryland Historical Society before coming to Hatteras, the women’s group tapped her talent as a dogged researcher and patient communicator who could understand arcane fisheries policies and translate it to watermen and their families with clarity and precision.

Barbara Garrity-Blake, who later co-authored Fish House Opera with West, remembers first meeting her in 1992 at a Hatteras-Ocracoke women’s auxiliary Fisheries Association meeting. “There she was, with that long red braid halfway down to her butt,” Garrity-Blake recalled. The two became fast friends, and in no time, “fisheries conspirators,” she said.

After serving three years together on the Moratorium Steering Committee, a collaborative state legislative panel created to overhaul fisheries policy that led to the 1997 Fisheries Reform Act, the two women agreed that most people had little understanding of fisheries issues or fishermen, Garrity-Blake said. So they decided to write a book from the watermen’s perspective, Fish House Opera, which was published by Mystic Seaport Press.

Garrity-Blake, a cultural anthropologist who teaches marine fisheries policy at the Duke University Marine Laboratory, said that West was not only keenly intelligent and insightful, but she was also unflappable.

With her deliberate speaking style — composed and paced, as Garrity-Blake described it — people listened to West and respected the way she handled herself when she approached problems. “Instead of raising hell, she would raise a question,” she said.

West’s remarkable accomplishments also included an oral history project, “Carolina Coastal Voices,” that involved transcribing old and new interviews with old-timers and community members, a blog with Garrity-Blake, “Raising the Stories,” and a leadership program or “Fish Camp” that hosts dozens of young people interested in or newly licensed in commercial fishing.

She also served on the board of NC Catch and helped organize the Dare County Working Watermen’s Committee.

In addition, West is an award-winning writer who has penned numerous articles for multiple publications. And she was instrumental in launching the annual “Day at the Docks” in Hatteras and its popular “Seafood Throwdown” chef contest that began as a celebration of survival of the village after Hurricane Isabel in 2003.

West appreciated the fishing heritage of the Outer Banks. But she realized that it was more practical — and meaningful to state regulators and policymakers— for the fishing community to focus on the importance of their livelihood and the income and seafood product they produce for themselves and the state, said Lynne Foster, a Hatteras resident and friend who with her husband Ernie Foster, runs the Albatross Fleet.

“She poured all her energy into what she could do to preserve fishing here,” Foster said. But her style leaned into warm, honest and witty rather than aggressive “Susan was always kind. There was a gentleness about her. You never saw her lose her top.”

An informal celebration of her life will be held later, but Amspacher said the “girls” who have worked for so many years alongside West are already planning to meet on Hatteras in the coming months for that purpose.

“For an important life like that, yes,” she said. “I just feel like that everyone needs punctuation at the end of our sentence.”


Barnhill Building Group has been selected as the Construction Manager @ Risk by the College of the Albemarle and is seeking to pre-qualify construction trade contractors to submit bids for the furnishing labor, materials, equipment, and tools for the new College of The Albemarle – Allied Health Sciences Simulation Lab (COA Health Sciences) located in Elizabeth City, NC. Please note: Only subcontractors who have been prequalified by Barnhill will be able to submit a Bid.

The project consists of the new construction of a 38,000-sf, 2-story expansion to the existing Owens Health Sciences Center and will house classrooms, labs, and a simulation lab. The site is just over just over 4.5 acres and is located on an active campus. This new construction will be a steel structure with a brick and metal panel veneer, curtainwall, and storefront glazing with a PVC roof membrane.

Principal trade and specialty contractors are solicited for the following Bid Packages:

BP0100: General Trades

BP0105: Final Cleaning

BP0390: Turnkey Concrete

BP0400: Turnkey Masonry

BP0500: Structural Steel & Misc. Steel

BP0740: Roofing

BP0750: Metal Panels

BP0790: Caulking / Caulking

BP0800: Turnkey Doors/Frames/Hardware

BP0840: Glass & Glazing

BP0925: Drywall

BP0960: Resilient Flooring

BP0980: Acoustical Ceilings

BP0990: Painting & Wallcovering

BP1005: Toilet Specialties / Accessories / Division 10

BP1010: Signage

BP1098: Demountable Partitions

BP1230: Finish Carpentry and Casework

BP1250: Window Treatment

BP1400: Elevators

BP2100: Fire Protection

BP2200: Plumbing

BP2300: HVAC

BP2600: Turnkey Electrical

BP3100: Turnkey Sitework

BP3290: Landscaping

Packages may be added and/or deleted at the discretion of the Construction Manager. Historically underutilized business firms are encouraged to complete participation submittals.

HUB/MWBE OUTREACH MEETING: Barnhill Building Group will be conducting a HUB/MWBE Informational Session. You are encouraged to attend the following session to learn more about project participation opportunities available to you. These seminars will help to: Learn about project and scope; Inform and train Minority/HUB contractors in preparation for bidding this project; Assist in registration on the State of North Carolina Vendor link; Stimulate opportunities for Networking with other firms. Location and time TBD. Please visit our planroom at https://app.buildingconnected.com/public/54da832ce3edb5050017438b for more information.

Interested contractors should submit their completed prequalification submittals, by July 22, 2024, to Meredith Terrell at mterrell@barnhillcontracting.com or hardcopies can be mailed to Barnhill Contracting Company PO Box 31765 Raleigh, NC 27622 (4325 Pleasant Valley Road, NC 27612).



  • Russell Blackwood

    This article describes Susan perfectly!
    A wonderful, intelligent, witty, woman!
    I’m honored to call her and her husband friends.
    She will be great missed…………..

    Monday, Nov 14 @ 9:06 pm
  • Peter R. Hornby

    Rest in peace..Saddened to hear of your passing..Hatteras has lost an important citizen and advocate…I miss our conversations, those years, at the post office with your perspective, insightful…

    Tuesday, Nov 15 @ 7:57 am
  • Kathy Kiddy

    While Susan’s passing a huge loss for Hatter Islanders, we are so blessed to have her living, writing, and loving among us! May the Holy Spirit give Peace that surpasses human understanding to her family and friends✨

    Friday, Nov 18 @ 7:08 am