April 11, 2008

Recreational fishing group calls for net ban


The state chapter of the Recreational Fishing Alliance is calling for a ban on fishing nets in what the group describes as “non-coastal waters.”

“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,” Barefoot said.

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.

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