By SUSAN WEST
state chapter of the Recreational Fishing Alliance is calling for a ban
on fishing nets in what the group describes as “non-coastal
“By non-coastal waters, we mean all waters inside the
inlets,” said Tim Barefoot, co-chairman of the Recreational
Fishing Alliance – North Carolina (RFA-NC) and owner of Barefoot
Fishing Gear in Wilmington.
Although he wasn’t able to provide membership numbers for the NC
chapter, Barefoot did say that the chapter had formed recently.
The organization’s board announced unanimous support for the
“complete removal of all mobile and fixed net gear” from
the state’s “sounds, bays, estuaries and creeks” in a
March 31 press release.
Barefoot said his group is especially interested in a ban on gillnets, otter trawls, and dredges.
“We are targeting gear that scrapes the bottom, disturbing
critical habitat for fish, and gear with bycatch problems,” he
said, adding that the ban would not apply to cast-nets.
He also indicated that the group might not seek a ban on commercial pound-nets.
As expected, commercial fishermen had plenty to say about the net ban proposal.
“A net ban in Pamlico Sound would eliminate a whole segment of
the fishing industry and literally shut us down,” said commercial
fishermen Michael Peele in Hatteras.
He said many of the men who work in the sound are older fishermen and use small, traditional skiffs.
“It’d be tough on the older man,” Peele said.
Sean McKeon, president of the North Carolina Fisheries Association
(NCFA), a commercial fishing trade organization, wasn’t
particularly surprised by a call for a net ban in the state.
“In states that have created a recreational fishing license, the next step is a net ban,” McKeon said.
Elected officials were also quick to weigh in on the RFA-NC net ban proposal.
North Carolina Senate President Pro-Tempore Marc Basnight said,
“We have the largest system of shallow inner waters in the
country and our fishery supports itself very well, producing fish,
crabs and shrimp for a large population of people.
“Nets are now well-managed in North Carolina. We have a
system in place for measuring the health of stocks and managing the
resource for the benefit of both recreational and commercial
fishermen,” Basnight continued.
State Rep. Tim Spear said he was not aware of the net ban proposal, but
its impact on the state’s commercial fisherman was a tremendous
concern to him.
In a written statement, Marshall Adame, Democratic candidate for U.S.
Congress from North Carolina’s 3rd district, urged the state to
continue protecting fish stocks and habitat “without resorting to
such drastic measures as a net ban.”
Adame also said that the net ban would result in greater dependence on seafood imported from other countries.
But, RFA-NC co-chairman Barefoot said the net ban would go hand-in-hand with a plan to increase domestic seafood production.
“We don’t want to put commercial fishermen out of
business. We have a very definite plan in place to make fishermen
more profitable and better organized through aquaculture,”
He declined to provide more specific information in a telephone
interview, but did say the program would be available to all licensed
commercial fishermen in the state.
Commercial fishermen have pointed out that property costs and coastal
land development regulations would present challenges to creating fish
farms or shrimp ponds in most areas of Dare County. They also have
raised environmental and economic feasibility questions over the
offshore aquaculture operations promoted by federal fisheries managers.
Barefoot said the RFA plans to be active in this year’s election campaigns.
“We will support the gubernatorial candidate who will run the
state like a business, on nothing but dollars and cents and sheer
economics,” he said.
The RFA-NC press release noted the value of recreational fishing to the state’s economy.
“While we recognize that an absolute maximum of 4,000 commercial
fishermen may be impacted by (the net ban), there are sufficient
opportunities available though buyout programs, retraining, and
aquaculture to invalidate the excuse that commercial fishermen will be
put out of business,” the release continued.
That statement didn’t sit well with McKeon, NCFA president.
“What they are saying is that recreational fishing is so
important to the economy that commercial fishing is no longer needed to
provide seafood to the American consumer,” he said.
“I hope that is an eye-opener for consumers,” McKeon said.