From the "Encyclopedia of North Carolina" "Archaeology" by Joan E. Freeman and R.P. Stephen Davis Jr..
Underwater archaeology was first conducted in North Carolina in the early 1960s, when U.S. navy divers, working in cooperation with the North Carolina Department of Cultural resources, recovered several thousand artifacts from sunken Civil War blockade-runners in the Wilmington area. (That would initially be the wreck of the blockade-runner Modern Greece which sank off Fort Fisher.)
In 1963, the state established a preservation laboratory at the Fort Fisher State Historic Site to treat those artifacts, and in 1967, the General Assembly passed a law to protect submerged cultural resources in the state. That statute claimed North Carolina's ownership of all cultural material unclaimed in state waters for more than ten years.
Further, the law authorized the Department of Cultural Resources to establish a professional staff and regulations for managing those submerged resources, and to develop a system for permitting qualified individuals, groups and institutions to conduct investigations and recovery projects of underwater archaeological sites.