This year has been hard for the North Carolina commercial fishing industry.
2018 started with a hard, frozen winter and late spring. A majority of inshore waters froze over, something residents haven’t seen for years. This temporarily altered the ecosystem, decreasing fish availability and stunting the growth of oysters. The lack of fish of shellfish decreased income opportunities to many in the fishing industry.
After a normal summer, Hurricane Florence blew on shore as a category 1 hurricane. The storm devastated the southern coast and southeastern part of the state. Luckily, the storm spared many commercial fishing vessels and fishermen’s gear. Shellfish growers and fish houses did not fare as well. Personal property was lost by many in the industry.
Shellfish growers, including many farmers who grow the oysters we sell, lost a lot of gear. On top of that, some waters were closed to shellfish harvesting for weeks after the storm due to poor water quality caused by flooding. Weeks without harvesting means weeks without income for many shellfish growers. Some growers faced massive die-offs as their shellfish reacted to freshwater flooding inundating estuarine waters. According to North Carolina Sea Grant, the NC shellfish industry alone has $4.8 million in claimed losses from the storm as of mid-October.
Because shellfish farming in North Carolina is such a new industry, insurance options are quite poor. Most options only cover pennies on the dollar. In most cases, the only thing insured is the gear – the shellfish itself isn’t covered. As a result, Hurricane Florence has set back the growth of the shellfish mariculture industry in NC.
The North Carolina Fisheries Association asked for almost $20 million from the state’s relief fund. This was a conservative amount, since the damage is likely far more extensive. Last week during the legislative short session, the state awarded $1.6 million to the industry, enough for $300 per fisherman. Hardly worth the effort.
Recovery from Florence will be a marathon, not a sprint. The fishing communities of North Carolina are facing long-term impacts from this storm. Wild shellfish stocks were likely hit hard, but we’re only beginning to see the impact since the season just began. Fish stocks have been out of whack all year. As a result, many fishermen will have to look for other sources of income this winter.
As of November 2nd, Governor Cooper requested additional resources and funding from the US Department of Commerce by petitioning the department to declare a fisheries disaster in NC. This could result in additional funds from the federal government to help the commercial fishing industry repair damage and get back on their feet.
The News & Observer covered the hardships facing North Carolina’s shellfish farmers in this article from November 21, 2018.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
Support North Carolina’s fishing families this holiday season by giving to the NC Fisheries Association’s Maritime Angels fundraiser. This is a program designed to help families from the commercial fishing industry who need help this holiday season.
You can also give to the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum hurricane relief fund. They are working with folks in the Down East community to identify families in need of assistance. Read more about their efforts here.