Fishermen, boaters suffer under Bonner Bridge restrictions

DARE COUNTY, N.C. (WAVY) — Some major boating restrictions are in effect in the Outer Banks, and they come with big fines for those who don’t comply. It’s a nightmare for local fishermen stuck in nearby marinas.

“How can this happen? Instead of out there, I’m here,” said Britton Shackelford, a fisherman for blue fin tuna.

That’s the question fishermen and charter boat captains were asking Monday night. They found themselves unable to work after the Coast Guard restricted access under the Bonner Bridge.

“For the Coast Guard to basically forbid us from going in and out of our only means of accessing the ocean, is pretty incredulous,” Shackelford said.

The issue is with the depth of the Oregon Inlet under the bridge. Right now, it’s shallow, and in some places, the water is less than four-feet-deep.The Coast Guard said it has become a safety hazard.

For the past couple months, the bigger boats have been using other parts of the bridge to pass under, but over the weekend a Coast Guard boat tried to get through and hit the bottom. At that point, the restriction went into place.

“Public safety is our primary concern,” said Coast Guard Commander John Dittmar. “It’s a big decision and it’s not a decision that we take lightly.”

“Closing the inlet really hurts us,” said Jim Tobin, manager of the Pirate’s Cove Marina. “They put some teeth behind it, too. There is a $32,500 fine if you come with in a couple feet of the bridge.”

That means at the Pirate’s Cove Marina, the charter boats are unavailable.

“It’s frustrating as heck to me,” Tobin said. “The federal government has just totally abandoned their commitment to this inlet.”

A couple years ago, the the feds told the county they would make sure the inlet was constantly dredged, but the county is no longer getting the federal funding. That means the dredging isn’t happening as often as it should.

“We need to get the folks up in Washington to start improving our infrastructure,” Tobin said.

“I don’t blame the people from being upset,” Congressman Walter Jones told 10 On Your Side.

Jones represents Dare County. He said he’s been fighting for years to keep money flowing to help watermen in the area.

“How can we spend millions and billions of dollars in a foreign country, like Afghanistan, to build their roads, to build their schools, and we can’t even do the same here in America?” Jones said.

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