Charleston Waterkeeper member, Derek Anderson, recently interviewed local commercial fisherman, Fred Dockery, to get an inside look at one of the Lowcountry’s most important industries. The interview is an incredible one, and we’ve got to extend a huge thanks to both Derek and Fred for taking the time to do this. Enjoy…
Give a little descriptive background about your job, how long you’ve been working the waters, and what your daily routine encompasses.
I’m a commercial fisherman/waterman in the Charleston area. My boats range from 17′ outboard powered to 24′ diesel, and are all trailered. I Crab all year long, and try to fill in the financial gaps with stone crabs in the spring and fall, shrimp in the summer, and a lot of other miscellaneous fisheries. I have a BA in Philosophy from Bates College, but have been fishing or fish farming off and on since 1988. I’ve been in Charleston since 1991. My day varies quite a bit, with some early starts and some late ones, and some 12 to 14 hour days and some much shorter. If I had to guess at an average, I’d say 6- 8 hours on the water plus 2-3 hours getting rid of the catch.
Having worked local waters for nearly 20 years, how would you classify the overall health of Charleston’s harbor and tributaries compared to when you first began working? What are the major improvements/setbacks you have seen?
If oyster growth is a good indicator, I’d say mostly worse. For setbacks, I’d say more docks, more boats, more pesticide and fertilizer runoff. Overall more human impact. The biggest improvement (and perhaps only one) is an increased awareness of the significance of our impact and the value of our water resource. I don’t see much real action coming from this realization though.
What do you see as the most critical element to the future sustainability of Charleston’s watershed? Why?
While there are lots of things that play a role in keeping a sustainable watershed, the biggest one in my opinion is runoff. Assessing the quality and quantity of water coming into the watershed, determining the effects changes from the past 10 years are having, and then addressing ways to stop the trend and maybe even reverse it. One example of what I mean by this is Bass Creek, off the Stono River. Since the East end of Kiawah has been developed, Bass Creek has had to be closed due to high bacteria levels. Because a single polluter can not be identified, the culprit is identified as non point source pollution and therefore nothing is done about it besides closing the oyster and clam beds.
What issues would you like to see Charleston Waterkeeper and other local environmental organizations take on in a concerted effort that may or may not have been addressed?
Encourage community docks instead of individual docks; discourage the use of pesticides and fertilizers at the water’s edge, which may mean discouraging lawns at the water’s edge, Discourage the spraying of Malathion in proximity to the water, Encourage public access to the water and waterfront (ownership is key to stewardship); Educate, educate, educate, but be careful about the accuracy of the lessons you teach; sometimes a simple answer to a question or problem is an easy sell, but a longer and more complicated one is closer to the truth. Encourage Dialog, and bring user groups together.
Charleston Waterkeeper has launched a Copper Campaign to both educate the public about the copper issue in our waters and to help pinpoint the majors factors contributing to this increase. Have you noticed any toxin, chemical, or compound that has played an adverse role in our local seafood and which we should raise a red flag over?
Malathion? Farm pesticides? Mercury? There are many possible culprits, but I would suggest limiting your pursuit to something you know the source of and effect of with a pretty good degree of confidence.
Candidly, what advice do you have for the people of Charleston in regards to our waterways? What role would you like to see each person play?
We will all love the waterways for different reasons, and it’s important to respect the outlook of others. Participate in dialog, and disseminate honest information.
Do you feel local, state, and federal officials are doing enough to protect our inherent right to clean water and supporting our local seafood market at the same time? If not, elaborate.
No. While many officials are well intentioned, often they don’t have the tools to do what they think is right. Elected officials and people at agencies that are directly beholden to these officials often are more responsive to those who get them elected. Do you think OCRM would be more responsive to me complaining about non source pollution from KRA homes, or an attorney from KRA complaining about the hold up on a permit for a septic tank?
As you peer into the future 10, 20, 30 years from now, what is the outlook you forecast for our local waterways and seafood market? Are you pessimistic or optimistic?
Pessimistic. While I hope we don’t become another Florida, with clutter and obstruction everywhere on the water (I’m thinking of the Indian River), I don’t think the willpower exists to forego the profit potential in order to keep a lighter footprint. I think this is because most people who reap the profit can afford to go enjoy it elsewhere. By elsewhere, I don’t necessarily mean away from South Carolina, but away from the clutter they have created.
How would you rate the current quality of Charleston’s waterways 1 to 10? Why?
8. Because our footprint is still relatively light but growing fast. The mechanics are simple; more pressure means more problems down the road. We just haven’t hit the tipping point yet, so things are still pretty nice.