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Anglers scrambling to get money for new Outer Banks reef as prime fishing spot

The following article was written by by Jeff Hampton and appeared in The Virginian-Pilot. Dare County commissioners are appealing to a reluctant state commission to pay for a new artificial reef that would attract game fish and enhance the lucrative angling industry.

Reefs are a favorite spot for charter boat captains and hundreds of others who come to the Outer Banks for world-class fishing. The new reef would be close to Oregon Inlet.

"The near-shore fishermen are very excited about it," said Dick Parker, chairman of the Oregon Inlet Artificial Reef Committee for the Outer Banks Anglers Club.

Parker’s group seeks to build the reef over two years out of old ships and large debris such as concrete blocks for about $1.2 million. It has applied for a grant from coastal fishing license sales that earn about $5 million a year. But the committee overseeing grant money recommended a reef costing $882,000 over two years and wants a local match of 30 percent, Parker said.

The group has already been turned down for a grant from the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau. Parker has been surprised at how hard it is to get funding.

"I thought this was going to be a cakewalk," he said.

About 78,000 coastal fishing licenses are sold annually in Dare County, generating about $1 million in revenues, according to a state document and Dare County. The number of licenses sold in Dare ranks second in North Carolina behind Wake County and tops all coastal counties.

About 55,000 Virginians a year buy North Carolina licenses.

It is "grossly unfair" to require a local match for funding, commissioners said in a letter sent to the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries last week.

"No other coastal county even comes close to matching the sales generated in Dare County," the letter said.

The agency manages 62 artificial reefs, 42 in the ocean and 20 in estuaries such as the Pamlico Sound. Only four lie offshore from the Outer Banks near Oregon Inlet. One of them sits in state waters within 3 miles of shore.

Most of the rest lie off the state’s southeastern coast – with good reason, said Jason Peters, artificial reef coordinator for the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries. Oregon Inlet is risky for large barges and places to store debris are scarce, he said.

Private groups created reefs down south before the state took them over in the 1970s, Peters said.

The new Outer Banks reef would sit in about 70 feet of water and cover about 162 acres. The site still needs state and federal permits.

Plans are to beef up the existing reefs off the Outer Banks with 80,000 tons of concrete from the old Bonner Bridge after it is demolished, Peters said.

A committee overseen by the Marine Fisheries Commission oversees the fishing license grants. They go toward such projects as game fish research, reefs and boat launch docks, including some in Dare County, said Patricia Smith, spokeswoman for the Division of Marine Fisheries.

The committee awarded a reef grant in 2014 of $637,500 to a fishing association in New Hanover County. The committee will meet again in May and plans to reconsider the request for full funding of the reef.

Meanwhile, heavy use of the current reef close to Oregon Inlet will continue, Parker said.

"It’s going to be crowded," he said. "It will be like fishing on the pier when the spot are running."

Jeff Hampton, 252-338-0159, [email protected]

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