Interviewee: Willy Phillips

Role: NC Crabbers League of Aware Watermen co-founder

Date of Interview: December 6, 2016

Collection: 1997 North Carolina Fisheries Reform Act

Click on the link below to play the audio clip from the interviewee.

Abstract: Willy Phillips organized the NC Crabbers League of Aware Watermen (NC CLAW), a group of crab potters concerned about the sustainability of the industry in the early 1990s. He was interviewed about the development and passage of the Fisheries Reform Act, and about the successes and shortcomings of the act as a framework for managing coastal fisheries resources.

Transcript: We were operating under the assumption, more or less in a bubble, that we could enact change without addressing the fundamental problems, which are water quality and habitat within our ecosystem, that's limiting everything that we do. We just ignore that fact because we can't influence it, and yet that's the overriding factor that's holding us back from being able to build an industry.

The Marine Fisheries Commission has two hands tied behind its back, as does the Division. They can comment on different permitting decisions but they can't really influence it one way or the other, even the recently-adopted C.H.P.P. [Coastal Habitat Protection Plan] program is really a watered-down effort, as was the Albemarle-Pamlico Estuarine Study.

Every initiative that's come along has run into this insurmountable political force that is not interested in insuring that we can drink the water that comes from these sounds, or that we can eat the fish that come from it, or we can swim in them without getting rashes. Just three basic things. And they won't even do that, so we continue to use the rivers and creeks as a waste streams, and we can't have an industry trying to operate out of a cesspool; that's what we've got right now.

I think everything, ultimately, is related to the fecundity of the waters, you know. It's not very difficult to trace the decline, I think, overall, and the species, now that we've eliminated the commercial effort from the equation, as being a primary factor for all the stress it's accruing across the whole building block system.

The potential that fishermen bring to the table, as being the stewards of the public trust resource, is being the people that are out there on a daily basis, able to record and pass on to the other people within the state that depend on their seafood, the conditions of the waters they're in. There's a huge, huge population in-state that has no idea what's happening out here when it comes to our waters.

And the commercial fishermen have an intrinsic role in that—can have—by both supplying the resource for food consumption and the mental resource to know that you're doing the right thing for nature and the ocean, which sustains everybody, one way or another. So, to me, commercial fishing is not about how many tons of product, protein can you dump on the dock. It's about a balance you can achieve.