State Grant Helps Ocracoke Fishermen Keep Fish House

A $325,000 state grant will help a group of Ocracoke commercial fishermen keep open a place to unload, clean and ice their catch before its sold.

Fish houses have been declining along the North Carolina coast as development crowds out traditional waterfront activities.

Last year, the owner of Ocracoke's last commercial fish house quit and gave the fishermen a year to pay for a long-term lease to keep it operating.

Some 32 fishermen, crabbers and charter boat operators formed the Ocracoke Working Watermen's Association to save the village's only remaining fish house.

Fundraisers were held and volunteers helped with bookkeeping, fish-cleaning, painting and other work as supporters sought to save the fish house.

Fishermen got a low-interest economic loan through a Hyde County revolving fund before the June deadline. The grant from the N.C. Rural Economic Development Center enables them to pay off the loan and take possession of the fish house until 2074, association officials said.

"We're up and running and doing good," said Hardy Plyler, a fish house representative.

Along with securing jobs for the fishermen, Plyler said the deal helps preserve a portion of the island's heritage.

A study last year found that 39 fish houses, or 33 percent, closed in the previous six years, and there were 78 fish houses still operating.