Masonboro Sound residents fight to keep oyster fisheries off their shores

Oyster fishing equipment submerged during high tide. (Source: WECT)
Oyster fishing equipment submerged during high tide. (Source: WECT)

WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - They say their waterfront view has not been the same since the state made a change.

Now, Masonboro Sound residents are fighting to keep what they call an eyesore from getting worse.

The state director of the Division of Marine Fisheries considered proposed shellfish bottom/leases at a public hearing Thursday.

Emotions and tensions ran high as dozens of Masonboro residents packed a room at the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (NCDEQ) building, determined to make their voice heard.

The Division of Marine Fisheries is considering five additional leases in addition to one that is active. The entity leased a portion of submerged land in Masonboro Sound to an oyster farmer last year, which caused problems for the people living offshore.

Dr. Hormoze Goudarzi has lived in his home on Masonboro Sound for more than 30 years. He says last year a lease was granted to an oyster farmer, subsequently ruining his view.

Goudarzi says he was never notified.

"They said they put a notice in the water. I do not wade to work through the water," said Goudarzi. "I don't even have a boat to do that."

At low tide, oyster fishing equipment, including large metal cages, becomes visible.

While Goudarzi says it has lowered his property value, he is also worried about the hazards the equipment could pose.

"I have photographs to prove that this is a risk to anybody who goes there during the night, and especially people, tourists who come there and go water skiing, jet skiing, because these are submerged metal frames and if somebody hits it, they will be decapitated," Goudarzi said. "Basically, this is the most dangerous thing they've ever done, and somebody should ask these people, why on earth are you doing this?"

Goudarzi says the deed to his property states he owns the submerged land currently being leased, and that he has paid taxes on the land since purchasing the house in 1985.

Tim Holbrook, who owns Masonboro Reserve Oyster Company, says he does not own the land.

Those in support of the oyster farms say oysters filter the water, provide jobs, and help the local economy. They said they understand it affects the view, but that they follow state guidelines.

"I appreciate people that don't have an understanding of what we do," said Holbrook. "And they're worried about things they don't know but in reality, we are not inhibiting any kayakers. We are not creating a health or problem of anyone's injury."

Before Thursday's hearing, Holbrook said he's looking to compromise.

"We also want to be collaborative with the people in the neighborhood. We want to work together," he said.

However, Goudarzi is not backing down.

"I have promised myself to save this beautiful place," he said. "I'm going to take the case all the way to the Superior Court, and if I need to take the case all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States, I have to do that."

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