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Carpenter’s legacy will live on in building named after him

On June 12, Commissioners, staff and guests gathered to unveil the new sign naming the Potomac River Fisheries Building, on 222 Taylor St. in Colonial Beach, after Mr. Kirby A. “AC” Carpenter for his many years of dedicated service to the Commission.


Carpenter served as Assistant Executive Secretary from June 1973 to December 1982, and then moved up to Executive Secretary until June 2013.

During his 40 years of service to the Fisheries Commission, Carpenter was responsible for the effective and efficient management of all of the Commission’s affairs and carried out the mandate of the previous Commissioners.

Carpenter was responsible for carrying out his duties while complying with the requirements of the Maryland-Virginia Potomac River Compact of 1958.

Carpenter is extremely knowledgeable, which the Commission said served him well in the execution of his duties. Carpenter explained how the Compact of 1958 got its start almost 175 years earlier.

The Compact of 1785 gave Virginians fishing rights in the Potomac River, and Maryland free passage through the capes. Once enacted, a ship coming into Baltimore did not have to pay any tolls to come through Virginia. The Interstate Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution can trace its roots directly to the Compact of 1785.

The Compact of 1785 required the current general assemblies of both Maryland and Virginia agree on any law concerning the Potomac. The first piece of legislation passed in 1884, and the most recent legislation passed in 1929.

After World War II, the area saw a period of fighting, commonly referred to as the Oyster Wars. People were shot at, boats were chased, and one death resulted from gunfire. Carpenter said a Virginian, trying to escape from law enforcement, was shot by a Maryland officer.

Maryland then aggregated the Compact. The case went immediately to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Supreme Court appointed Retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stanley Reed to be a mediator. He set the two states down and said, “What you really want to do is figure out how to rule the river, not sue one another.” This resulted in the creation of the Potomac River Compact of 1958, the compact the Fisheries Commission works under today.

Carpenter said, “This Commission held its first meeting in January of 1963, and is 51 years old now. And, nobody has died in the last 51 years over a fish, crab or oyster.”

The members are made up of 4 members from each state. The number of commissioners has always been an even number. This is to ensure that the two states must work together. There are no tiebreaking votes.

When asked how the Commission breaks a tie, Carpenter said, “They don’t! If they don’t work together, they can’t do anything.”

Carpenter added, “The remarkable part is that the two states could come together here, actually work together, manage a river, manage a fisheries, and leave and go home and still argue with one another.”   

Carpenter said he was responsible for the day-to-day operations of the Commission. He represented the Commission at public hearings for items that were of interest to the Fisheries Commission.

When the Fisheries Commission needed legislation changed, Carpenter would attend in both states, presenting Commission requests and recommendations.

Carpenter was born and raised in Maryland, where he still resides. He commuted over the Potomac River Bridge for 40 years, which he said he won’t miss.

“The Commission itself is a marvelous working body; the fact that I’m not an Executive Director, I’m an Executive Secretary, my distinction is quite clear. The Commissioners, the eight of them, have to do the work. Yes, I provide them with starting points for the conversations and bring things to their attention that need to be done, but they are the ones who have to make the decisions; I’m not a voting member. It’s a working commission; the membership really has to take seriously.”

Carpenter said when he learned the Commission wanted to name the building after him, he was quite honored, adding, “It was a total surprise; even a complete shock.”

None of the accomplishments of the Fisheries Commission are attributed to one person; the entire group and staff enjoy the celebration when a new milestone is reached, new legislation is passed or a new commercial fishing industry is benefited.

 

Linda Farneth

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