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Hurricane Florence And The Fish Industry

The fishing industry in Southeastern North Carolina came to a grounding halt when Hurricane Florence pounded the coast in mid-September. Since then, officials say, the industry has rebounded thanks in part to the Hurricane Florence Commercial Fishing Assistance Program.

Captain Dave Tilley is starting up one of his boats in the harbor at Carolina Beach. He has fished these waters for most of his life. However, Hurricane Florence forced Tilley to take a few weeks off.

“When the hurricane came through, we had a lot of damage both to the infrastructure as you can see over here behind me with the construction and the bulkheads that are around the marina. We also had a lot of boat damage. We missed almost all of September and the very first part of October. So I would say probably four weeks in total.”

Tilley used to captain the big boats. 100 footers. Now he runs a charter business. As a licensed fisherman, he’s eligible for assistance from the state’s Marine Fisheries department.

“I was eligible and the state actually kind of hounded me about it. But me personally in the charter industry, I'm simply not interested. I think I speak fairly well for most of the charter captains around, we really don't, don't want anything from the government. We just as soon be left alone. And it is what it is.”

Tilley says he lost $10,000 after the storm, as he refunded all of those who had booked charters.

“it's specific to licensed commercial fisherman and it's based on, the loss of landings.”

Patricia Smith is with the Division of Marine Fisheries.

“The landings in this instance, is what is reported as what the fisherman sells at the dock to the dealer. The dealer then reports that and it's tied to the fishermen's license. So we have that on record.”

Those numbers are compared to previous years. Just over $11 million has been sent to commercial fisherman in North Carolina because of Florence. More than $300,000 has been sent to fishermen in Brunswick County, $226,000 in New Hanover, and $222,000 in Pender County. The bigger the operation, the bigger the check.

(SFX – sea gulls and water)

“My name is Royce Potter, Potter seafood in Southport, North Carolina. I am fifth generation here. We started in 1899.”

Potter is sitting on his dock on a quiet weekday morning in Southport. His 55-foot shrimp boat Cape Point lost its engine in the storm. A new engine would cost about $40,000, so Potter bought a used one, but it still needs some work.

“We have about six or seven boats here in town that do the offshore fishing, the snapper and grouper. They unload here in town and bring us, like I say, the snapper, grouper, trigger fish offshore species and we sell through the market here.”

The hurricane hurt.

“We were closed for three or four week’s right there around the storm. Even after that, it affects us on the retail seafood sides when everybody else is in the same boat. So they're cleaning their houses, they're fixing up their roofs and yards and you know, seafood and all these other things just becomes pushed to the back burner. So it is not only the storm immediately but down the road it hurts us as well.”

For Potter, the state aid check was around $200.

He says every bit helps.

According to the state Division of Marine Fisheries, the North Carolina commercial fishing industry generated more than $96 million in revenue last year.

This year’s aid package from the agency only helps the licensed fishermen. So ancillary businesses get no relief.

“We had a real good season up until the hurricane.”

Kathy Clemmons has owned Clem’s Seafood Market in Southport since 1984.

“I think there's some programs out there are, we personally haven't got anything, from the programs that's available out there.”

Clem’s is still in business and having a good year. So are the other fishermen contacted by WHQR. While those in the industry expect more hurricanes, and more challenges in the future. They all say, they are hoping to keep fishing, before and after the next storm. The 2019 Hurricane Season begins June 1st. Vince Winkel, WHQR News.