Waddell Center deserves funding in state budget

Many are unaware of the important work the Bluffton facility does.

newsroom@islandpacket.comJune 18, 2014 

The Lowcountry scored a big win Wednesday when the Senate overrode Gov. Nikki Haley's veto of $1.1 million for repairs at the Waddell Mariculture Center. The House did so earlier this week.

Opened in 1984, the research and hatchery facility on the Colleton River in Bluffton has had no major renovations, resulting in today's leaky fish tanks, crumbling systems and other costly repair needs.

Our county delegation, particularly Reps. Bill Herbkersman and Weston Newton along with Sen. Tom Davis, successfully convinced their fellow lawmakers to restore the money and prevent the potential closing of the little-known, but very important facility.

So just what does the center do? Those who enjoy saltwater fishing in our region owe a tip of their hat -- or fishing pole -- to the center. The facility, operated by the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, studies the local fish stocks to ensure the fisheries' health and replenishes their numbers. Over the years, it has raised and released millions of cobia, sea trout, red drum, striped bass and other species into our waterways.

That work ripples throughout the state's tourism economy, attracting sport fishermen to our coast and bulking up fishing-related businesses.

The center is also known for its research, including studying ways to decrease the nation's dependence on imported seafood by using emerging technologies and fish production systems to produce more domestic seafood. It has also developed a novel method that allows shrimp farming almost anywhere.

But it has long struggled for state support. State budget cuts in the mid-2000s led DNR to slash the center's funding. Then-Gov. Mark Sanford also worked to eliminate its state funding, saying it should be supported by private industry. And Gov. Nikki Haley has continued the trend, acknowledging that the center's work is important but viewing it as an add-on, not an essential service the state should support.

That's required the center to rely heavily on grants and revenue generated from saltwater fishing licenses. Local fishing clubs, boating clubs and individuals have donated money to pay for motors, pumps and repairs to maintain the center's tanks and pools full of fish.

The time has come for major renovations -- and the state should foot the bill. We disagree with the assessment that the center does not provide a critical service. Who should serve as stewards of our fish stocks if not the state? Short-sighted cuts to the center not only jeopardize the center's important work, but the state's sport fishing industry.

We're glad to see the center receive the money. But work shouldn't stop there. It's incumbent upon the center and DNR to do more to promote the center's work and stop the annual cycle of its request for funds getting turned down, then a desperate rush by local lawmakers to get the money returned to the state budget. They might start with asking Haley to grab a fishing pole and partake of the Lowcountry's excellent saltwater fishing.

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