The N.C. Marine Patrol can trace its roots back to 1800s when the state legislature was just beginning to adopt laws to protect oysters, making it the oldest state law enforcement agency. During that time, a chief commissioner and an associate commissioner, who acted as the captain of the patrol, were appointed by the Governor. There was also a third associate commissioner who received no salary but met with the other two twice each year to recommend changes to oyster laws. The chief commissioner was to appoint inspectors of oysters, provide clerks of Superior Court with application forms for licenses, collect license fees from the clerks and collect fines from oyster violations from justices. The chief commissioner was also to provide the captain of the patrol a list of all persons who had a current oyster license.
The first captain of the patrol was Adam Warner. He was instructed to purchase a patrol boat and was authorized to employ as many deputy patrolmen as necessary to operate the vessel. The boat he purchased was the Lillie. The oyster patrolmen were granted the power of arrest with or without warrant for oyster violations and were paid no more than $9 per month.
Currently, there are 56 sworn enforcement officers who patrol North Carolina’s coastal waters. These waters consist of over 4,000 miles of coastline and cover over 2.5 million acres of submerged lands. Officers also have authority over some fisheries out to 200 miles in the ocean. The Marine Patrol communications center is housed at the Division of Marine Fisheries’ headquarters in Morehead City, and it employs five full-time and three part-time dispatchers. They dispatch officers to marine fisheries calls and emergencies 24-hours a day, 7-days a week.
There are three Marine Patrol districts. Each patrol district has unique areas and different fisheries to patrol. The colonel and major of the Marine Patrol are stationed at the Morehead City headquarters, and there are district offices in Manteo, Morehead City and Wilmington. The rank structure of each district consists of one captain, two sergeants and 14 or more field officers, except for the Northern District, which also has a lieutenant. Find the description of the Marine Patrol districts and the contact information here.
One Marine Patrol officer is also a FAA commercially licensed pilot who flies support missions from the Beaufort Airport. The aviation unit of the Marine Patrol consists of two fixed wing aircraft.
The Marine Patrol has a fleet of 78 vessels. Most of them range from 16 feet to 26 feet in length. Officers patrol the coastal waters to look for violations, assist agencies with environmental and other law enforcement and assist with search and rescues, as needed. The largest vessel, the Roanoke, is a 48-foot Dauntless class vessel.
The Marine Patrol handles the enforcement of all recreational and commercial fishing regulations in coastal waters and waters that have joint jurisdiction with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission. Marine Patrol also enforces any N.C. General Statues that fall under its jurisdiction such as littering along the highways and waterways.
Officers undergo state-mandated training of at least 24-hours per year for various types of law enforcement skills, including firearms. Officers work staggered schedules to maintain around-the-clock patrols and keep radio contact with the patrol’s communications center for dispatch and safety. The duties of a Marine Patrol officer are numerous and include assuring that fishermen are properly licensed, patrolling waters, shorelines and piers, inspecting seafood establishments (both fish houses and restaurants), assisting Homeland Security agencies when needed, participating in hurricane and other disaster relief operations and working closely with the U.S. Coast Guard. In addition to these many duties, the Marine Patrol has taken up the goal of providing quality education to the public about what it does and the rules it enforces. To achieve this goal, the Marine Patrol has developed an education team equipped with a mobile trailer full of educational material and displays to exhibit at fishing and boating shows, festivals and classroom events.