Outer Banks watermen struggling to stay afloat

Even the pelicans under the fish conveyor belt were getting slim pickings.

On a better day, he would have caught closer to 3,000 pounds.

“It has not been really good,” he said.

Tall, lean and weathered like many of his watermen ancestors, Wescott, 37, says he is up against more than bad weather these days when it comes to commercial fishing.

In 2011, North Carolina fishermen harvested 29.7 million pounds of finfish compared with 110.9 million pounds a decade earlier – down from the peak of 388.6 million pounds in 1981, according to state records.

The number of commercial fishing licenses issued remained steady at just over 9,000 in 2011, but the number of fishermen actually using them fell to 3,700 from 5,260 in 2002 and a peak of 7,198 in 1996.

Wescott says he doubts his 3-year-old son, who loves going on the boat and to the fish house, will be able to make a living on the water.

“I don’t think the industry will be here,” he said.

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