07/09/06 — Boating accidents far too many in NC

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Boating accidents far too many in NC

By Gene Price
Published in Sports on July 9, 2006 2:01 AM

Fifteen people died in 14 fatal boating accidents in North Carolina last year. That was far too many.

But last year's fatal boating accidents were the second lowest since the Wildlife Resources Commission began keeping records of them in 1973.

The year 2002 had the best record with only 11 fatal boating accidents.

Putting the record in perspective provides an impressive picture.

Last year, when there were 14 fatal accidents, North Carolina had 362,907 registered boats.

In 1973, there were only 104,548 boats registered. But that year, 54 fatal accidents were recorded. That means, there were almost four times more fatal accidents despite having less than a third as many boats on the water.

The worst year on record was 1977 when there we 60 fatal boating accidents.

To what can most boating accidents be attributed?

Inexperience and inattention consistently have been the main causes. Hazardous waters and operator use of alcohol also have been significant factors in fatal accidents.

Boater education undoubtedly has had an important influence on the great reduction in the numbers of accidents despite tremendous increases in the number of boats operating on our waterways. For this, credit must go to organizations like the Goldsboro Sail and Power Squadron, the Coast Guard Auxiliary and the Wildlife Commission that conduct safe boating courses across the state.

Wildlife officers also monitor boating activities with on-the-water and aerial observations. While the presence of officers might be more obvious during special occasions such as the Fourth of July, the monitoring is an on-going activity for wildlife officers.

Their primary goal is not to issue tickets but to prevent accidents. Our own Wildlife officer Chris Holmes was quoted in a statewide Wildlife Commission news release before the Fourth of July reminding boaters to be especially careful when operating at night.

This was in anticipation of many people wanting to observe fireworks displays from the water.

Holmes reminded boaters of the importance of having navigation lights in good condition and being especially alert during night operations.

More dams

to be removed?

Eight years ago, the Neuse River dam at Quaker Neck near Goldsboro was removed. Later, a dam on Little River near Cherry Hospital was removed.

This was to allow migrating fish such as striped bass and American and hickory shad to reach traditional spawning grounds upstream. Fisheries biologists since then have reported observing spawning fish miles upstream from where the dams once blocked migration patterns.

This is expected to assure greater stocks of migrating fish in the years ahead.

Now being studied for potential removal are three dams on the Cape Fear River at locks No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3. These are owned and operated by the U.S. Corps of Engineers. They were built initially to facilitate navigation up and downstream -- a function now obsolete.

The areas just below such dams have over the years been favorite fishing spots for anglers after American shad. This is understandable, since the shad, upstream migration greatly impeded, tend to congregate just below the dams.

But biologists say enhancing upstream migration could greatly improve future fishery stocks.

Saltwater stocks

The state's Division of Marine Fisheries has listed the status of 40 saltwater fish stocks. Of these, only 18 were considered viable or recovering.

Among those considered "viable" are striped mullet, striped bass in the Albemarle Sound and the ocean, croaker, black sea bass, dolphin, king and Spanish mackerel, speckled trout, menhaden and shrimp.

Bluefish, red drum, scup, monkfish and sharks were listed as "recovering."

Falling in the category of "concerned" were American shad, summer flounder, gray trout, yellow perch, reef fish, bay scallops, oysters and blue crabs.

The river herring was among species listed as "over-fished."

The Division of Marine Fisheries earlier this year set a tight commercial harvest limit on the herring

which has shown an alarming decline in stocks in recent years.

The Wildlife Resources Commission, meanwhile, declared a virtual moratorium on river herring in waters it controls.