Davis, NC Occupations

2004 Blessing of the Fleet

Sitting in the newly-remodeled den of his modest block-style home in Davis, Milton Styron could easily be the poster child for the commercial fishing industry. His calloused hands are a tribute to his lifelong dedication to hard, physical labor and the lines that etch his tanned face illustrate the long days he has spent in the North Carolina sun.

Next Sunday morning, Mr. Styron and his son Milt Styron Jr. will join the rest of their family members and friends as they pay tribute to the commercial fishing industry at the annual Blessing of the Fleet. Definitely one of the most moving moments of the N.C. Seafood Festival, the Blessing is sponsored each year by the Carteret County Fishermen’s Association to commemorate the seafood and fishing industry, a large part of Carteret County’s heritage. The program offers everyone a chance to remember Carteret County fishermen who have died while also honoring those who continue to make fishing their livelihood. And it’s the sponsoring agency, the Carteret County Fishermen’s Association, and its supportive auxiliary of women, who Mr. Styron will come out to honor.

In an industry that has been seriously constricted by regulations, which have been put in place during the past 20 years, the Carteret County Fishermen’s Association has become a voice for those dependent on the traditional trade. “Without the Fishermen’s Association, the fishermen would have nothing to protect them,” the elder Mr. Styron said. “We wouldn’t even have anything to protect.” Mr. Styron followed in his father’s footsteps when he took to the water as a young man some 50 years ago aboard the Ruby Marie, aptly named after his wife. Today, on his second vessel, the Roy and Mary, named for his parents, he works beside his son, who joined the family profession in the late 1970s. And through the years, it has been the Fishermen’s Association that has kept the pair and their peers out in the water doing what they love most. When legislation jeopardizes the commercial fishing industry, Mr. Styron said, it is the association that heads to Raleigh to voice the opinion of those in the industry. And often, Mr. Styron adds, it’s the women behind the scenes, the auxiliary, who do much of the legwork, researching and pulling together data to help substantiate their case. “These women,” said Mr. Styron. “Have held this thing together. Most of the time, the men are out there working, so it’s the women – the auxiliary – who are the ones who do it. Their husband’s are dependent on the water, so they know what’s going on. ” And it’s the women who came together to create the Blessing of the Fleet, the religious service that centers around Carteret County’s commercial fishing heritage.

Music begins at 9:30 a.m., with the service to start at 10. The Rev. Patrick Cain, the Rev. Scott Cook and the Rev. Curtis Nelson will contribute to the program. Music will be provided by the Crystal Coast Community Choir, pianist Robert Morris, Followers of Christ, Master Peace and the Down East Chorus. Connie Mason will lead a congregational song while Jody Merritt, Sandra Gaskill and Carteret County Commissioner Jonathan Robinson will offer remarks. Jerry Schill of the N.C. Fisheries Association will narrate the boat processional and memorials.

Mr. Styron will be there, too. He’ll read the self-written “Thoughts of a Fisherman.”

At the close of the service, working boats will line up and parade slowly by the congregation. Announcements will list the name of the vessel, its captain and the names of those it wishes to remember. Each boat has the option of throwing a wreath into the water and a final boat will deposit a large wreath for all other fishermen who have lost their lives. Leading the boat processional will be Capt. Tommy Lewis on the Charles D. Smith, Beaufort. And bringing up the rear will be the crew of the Gregory Poole of Beaufort Fisheries, with Capt. Bobby Martin Jr. at the helm

The service will be broadcast live on WTKF 107.3 FM for those who are unable to attend.

Written by Amanda Dagnino for the Careret County News-Times

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