Notes from the Sustaining Delaware Marine Fisheries Seminar

March 1, 2014

I attended the Sustaining Delaware Marine Fisheries Seminar sponsored by Delaware Sea Grant Feb. 21. This was not the first fisheries seminar I have attended, and to tell you the truth, I didn’t expect much. I was pleasantly surprised.

The secretary of Delaware’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, Collin O’ Mara, was the first speaker, and he set the tone of the proceedings.

O’Mara spoke of the need for clean water and good habitat for a healthy fishery. I asked him about the proposed chicken processing plant in Millsboro that is supposed to dump millions of gallons of wastewater into the Indian River. He replied that the total amount of wastewater going into the Indian River would be relatively small, and the plant would have a $10 million water treatment facility to make the wastewater cleaner than the water going into the plant.

On another subject near and dear to the hearts of fishermen, O’Mara said he supports dredging clogged waterways, but there is no permanent funding source, and getting the money from the annual bond bill becomes more difficult every year. As an example, Bowers Beach has been trying to dredge the Murderkill River entrance since 2004 and finally got the job done in 2014.

Dave Saveikis, director of Fish and Wildlife, spoke next on the economic impact of fishing to the Delaware economy. Combined recreational and commercial fishing produce $200 million and 1,500 jobs in Delaware. Commercial dockside landings are valued at $8.5 million with crabs accounting for $6.5 million. The general fishing license brings in $1.3 million, and that is matched with more than $4 million in federal funds. These are two examples of the direct economic benefits derived from fishing. Other economic factors include boat fuel, fishing bait, boat sales, fishing tackle and lodging.

Wes Townsend, a commercial fisherman out of Indian River, was the next speaker, and he saw the high dock fees at Delaware Seashore State Park as a major problem for his business. His brother Chet has moved his operation to Ocean City, Md., where the dock fees are considerably less. The only thing keeping Wes in Delaware is he can fish on Delaware’s black sea bass quota.

Wes also said he wants to see commercial fishermen cooperate with fishery managers in an effort to produce better data. He feels better data will result in better management practices, and this will result in a more stable fishery. He plans to fish for many more years and wants to be certain there are fish to catch.

Charlie Auman, who operates a fish-packing operation in Slaughter Beach, would like to see fishing regulations reviewed on a regular basis. He believes once a quota is set, fishermen should decide when to catch their share, not have regulations that restrict how many they can catch and when. He also wants to team up with regulators to keep commercial fishing going well into the future.

Capt. Dave Russell from Slaughter Beach, operator of the head boat Miss Shyanne, spoke about the lack of new faces on the dock. He said fewer and fewer young people are fishing, and he believes this is a bad sign for the future. He does work with summer camps and has brought youngsters out on his boat where many experience the bay for the first time.

Russell has diversified and takes out bird watchers and nature cruises so family groups can enjoy time on the water.

Clark Evans from Old Inlet Bait and Tackle spoke next, and he also said the high cost of slips at Delaware Seashore State Park has affected his business.

At one time, the shop had 50 charter boat accounts, and now it has five. While some have left the business, many more have moved to Ocean City where their expenses are considerably less.

Matt DiSabatino owns three restaurants in Lewes and said he would love to use locally produced seafood, but he currently has no way of knowing where his supplier gets his product. He is also going to examine the possibility of serving anglers their catch when they bring fish to his restaurant.

One of the biggest surprises came from Anthony Gonzon, Fish and Wildlife’s coordinator for the Delaware Bayshore Initiative. He said the No. 1 activity the public wants to do is fishing, followed by providing access for fishermen.

I was encouraged by the attention paid to fishing by the DNREC secretary and the staff of Fish and Wildlife. Thanks go out to Sea Grant and DNREC for setting up the seminar and to all those who participated and shared their knowledge and concerns. It seems to me that the majority of the fishing community wants to keep Delaware’s marine fishery alive and well.

  • Eric Burnley is a Delaware native who has fished and hunted the state from an early age.  Since 1978 he has written countless articles about hunting and fishing in Delaware and elsewhere along the Atlantic Coast.  He has been the regional editor for Salt Water Sportsman, Field and Stream, Outdoor Life and the Fisherman Magazine.  He was the founding editor of the Mid-Atlantic Fisherman magazine.  Eric is the author of three books; Surf Fishing the Atlantic Coast, The Ultimate Guide to Striped Bass Fishing and Fishing Saltwater Baits.  He and his wife Barbara live near Milton, Delaware. Eric can be reached at