State has responsibility to take care of mariculture center

info@islandpacket.comMarch 13, 2013 

Waddell Mariculture Center near Bluffton works to keep saltwater fishing, shown in this file photo, a healthy option in the Lowcountry.

JAY KARR ¥ STAFF PHOTO

If the state is going to benefit from the James M. Waddell Mariculture Center, it must pay to keep the facility in greater Bluffton from crumbling to the ground.

A $1.2 million request from the state budget is reasonable and should be supported in Columbia.

Most of it would repair and renovate a building that leaks and has hardly been updated since the center was created in 1984 as part of the Department of Natural Resources. For example, the building is lacking because it predates the widespread use of computers.

The center's role has changed over the years, but today it is in the right place at the right time to protect and enhance the state's nearly $1 billion annual economic benefit from saltwater fishing.

It sits on the Colleton River, where the stable salinity of the Port Royal Sound estuary aids in its research and protection of valuable species such as cobia, spotted sea trout, red drum and striped bass.

The center is learning more each year about how best to protect, replenish and rebuild those fish populations throughout the ACE Basin. Clean and productive waterways are vital to the reputation and economy on this special stretch of the South Carolina coastline, and the Waddell Mariculture Center must have the support it needs to meet that demand.

The center gets precious little operating money from the state budget. Much of its revenue comes from a portion of the saltwater fishing license fee, grants and donations.

Some say it is a frill or extra -- something private enterprise should fund.

The private sector already is giving a lot. The Friends of Waddell organization set up the Waddell Fund, which is managed by the Community Foundation of the Lowcountry and helps the center buy things such as new pumps and other equipment as needed.

And healthy sportfish populations are not a frill. They are a fundamental, both economically and socially. Understanding fish is important. If the fish are healthy, so are a lot of other ingredients in our challenged environment.

Beyond that, the waterways belong to the state. It is a basic state responsibility to keep them healthy, accessible and productive. That is not a duty for the vested interests of private enterprise. The private sector can and does help, but the work of the Waddell Mariculture Center is a state responsibility and a wise investment of public funds.

Research there can help the private sector, including the study of fish production systems that could help Americans eat more seafood that is not imported.

It's past time for the state to chip in a little more to upgrade the facilities at the Waddell Mariculture Center and help the Friends of Waddell and other donors keep it afloat.

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