Funding for Waddell Mariculture puts smiles on fish faces

cdad@hiltonheadisland.netJuly 1, 2014 

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The South Carolina Legislature reinstated funding for the Waddell Mariculture Center in Bluffton.

SARAH WELLIVER — Staff photo Buy Photo

What a great week it's been. Even with the unbearable heat and humidity that has me changing shirts every other hour, one thing in particular has kept a smile on my face to the point that my cheekbones actually hurt. Can you guess what I am talking about? The funding for the Waddell Mariculture Center finally made it through -- this is huge.

With all the good press Waddell has received over the past year, I felt that finally much-needed funding would go right on through. I should have known better because this is South Carolina and as much as I love my state, nothing is certain especially when it comes to our politics.

Back when I was our representative on the recreational marine advisory board, I got a taste of what we here in the Lowcountry are up against in the eyes of upstate representatives. Back then, all I was trying to do was have saltwater license fees changed from $5 to $10 since those funds go toward everything to do with fishing, such as improving fishing habitat, enforcing the rules and funding Waddell.

You would have thought I was asking for their first-born. "The people in my county can't even afford to supa-size their Big Mac meal!" That may be a bit of an exaggeration, but it wasn't that far off in reality. It took four years to pass the fee increase and even now, South Carolina has by far the cheapest fishing license fees of any southeastern state. Often I ask friends and other folks I fish with one simple question: "Would you pay $15 or $20 for your saltwater license if you knew that extra money would go directly to the Waddell Mariculture Center?" So far, I have not heard one person say no.

So when our esteemed Gov. Nikki Haley cut the money allotted for improvements to the aging Waddell Mariculture Center from the state budget, I was floored. Every year it has been the same ol', same ol', but this year was supposed to be the year when the funding would come through. Instead, Haley's proposal was to keep Waddell's budget the same, a budget that barely covers the day-to-day operations of the facility, much less helps repair ceilings that are falling in, replace stone age water pumps run by squirrels trotting in circular cages, plus a host of other issues.

The only way around her veto was to have our representatives in the House and Senate sell their counterparts on the importance of Waddell like they have never been sold before.

With only a couple of days before the Waddell funding issue was to be voted on in the House and Senate, I called everyone I knew asking them to write Weston Newton and Sen. Tom Davis or anyone they knew who might have pull in the matter. You'll rarely hear me congratulating politicians, but in this case I will. The vote was overwhelmingly positive in the House (thanks, Weston), but the Senate had me worried. I felt like an expectant father as I waited for the vote to come up.

It wasn't until Al Stokes called me around my bedtime that I got the news: The Senate had overturned Haley's veto, and finally the money was going be there to help polish our jewel of the Lowcountry so that it might have some of its original luster. So thanks to Sen. Tom Davis and all those who worked to get the funding approved.

Al Stokes and his staff have worked for peanuts for years to help each and every one of us who value our waters. With the explosive growth of this area, we will need their expertise and knowledge more than ever. Issues such as groundwater runoff, evaluating and enhancing fish stocks and the impact of development on our waters need an impartial voice that is not swayed by self-serving interests. That voice is the Waddell Mariculture Center and thanks to this recent funding victory, they will be here when we need them the most.

God does not subtract from the allotted span of a man's life the hours spent in fishing. Columnist Collins Doughtie, a graphic designer by trade and fishing guide by choice, sure hopes that's true.

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