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Fishermen say ‘hurt’ from hurricane

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    Posted: 14 February 2019 at 6:56am
Fishermen say ‘hurt’ from hurricane hard to measure

SNEADS FERRY — Millis Seafood owner Tim Millis has been working in the commercial fishing industry for more the 60 years and remembers the devastation of Hurricane Hazel.

Hazel left a path of destruction from wind and storm surge that residents weren’t prepared for in the days before the warning systems that are in place today.

Hurricane Florence, he said, was different.

“Others came in and were gone. This one stayed longer, pouring all that rain,” Millis said.

Hurricane Fran in 1996 brought the most high water from the tide, he recalls, but that was saltwater coming in. It’s the rush of all the fresh water from the days of non-stop rain that was so damaging with Florence, which hit Eastern North Carolina in September as a Category 1 hurricane.

“All the water did all the damage,” Millis said.

There were few fisheries not impacted.

“(The storm) hurt clamming, oysters, fish, shrimp; all of it,” Millis said.

As Millis took phone calls Thursday morning at the fish house, he talked with commercial fisherman Clayton Coston of Sneads Ferry from the retail space converted to an office after the storm damaged the trailer that was previously used for business purposes.

Five months after Florence, operations at the fish house are getting back to normal after waiting for water to recede and cleaning up following the initial aftermath.

Work on the water, however, has been rough, Coston said.

In the weeks after the storm, the pollution of coastal waters closed fishing areas and raised concerns about the safety of local seafood consumption.

Even after fishermen were able to get back on water, the problems continued.

Coston, a clammer, said the mechanical harvest season had barely opened on Dec. 10 when rain temporarily closed the shellfishing area he was headed to.

When he has been out, he hasn’t been harvesting what he has in the past.

“I caught 75 bags of clams this week; I caught a lot more two years ago that I have so far this year,” Coston added.

Coston doesn’t put all the blame on the hurricane and said fisheries is complex and impacted by many forces, including regulations he feels can hurt rather than help.

“Shellfish are depleted,” Coston said. “Some of it is the storm but that is not the only thing.”

Still, he has seen impacts he feels are a direct result of the storm.

A week or so ago he was on his boat in New River Inlet in an area of shellfish waters he has worked before without a problem. This time, he said, it was difficult to keep moving through the water.

“I feel like the contour of the bottom has changed,” Coston said.

Millis said fishermen were out of work for at least four or five weeks after the hurricane, and when they did return to the water, all the debris in the water has damaged nets and gear.

“It is hard to tell how much a thing like that hurts, but it hurts,” Millis said.

An $11.6 million fund to help commercial fishermen recover from the storm was established as part of Hurricane Florence relief effort signed into law Dec. 3 by Gov. Roy Cooper.

On Feb. 1, Cooper announced that the first round of hurricane assistance checks was mailed out under the Hurricane Florence Commercial Fishing Assistance Program.

There were 644 check totaling $3.2 million to help compensate fishermen for income losses from September due to the hurricane as documented by state harvest records, a news release from Cooper’s office said.

Distribution of money is based on commercial fishing landings in September, October and November of 2018 compared to the same time in 2015, 2016 and 2017.

Millis had not talked to anyone who had received a check but he knows there were losses during those fall fishery months.

“Sea mullet was the least we’ve had that I can remember,” he said.

The commercial fishing industry has seen many challenges but Mother Nature is one thing that is out of their hands.

“You can’t control it; you just have to take it as it comes,” Millis said.

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