Political terrain is rougher in new version of the gamefish bill
BY CATHERINE KOZAK
fishermen for the fourth time are fighting against passage of a
gamefish bill that is winding its way through the North Carolina
General Assembly, but this time the political terrain is rougher and
the legislation is an entangled mix of actions.
The bill, HB
983, proposes to remove red drum, speckled trout, and estuarine striped
bass from commercial fishing and make them solely recreational catches,
a measure strongly opposed on the coast.
The same bill,
however, also provides funds for dredging and fisheries observers,
measures strongly favored on the coast. It would also compensate
watermen for losses. And it raises fees on recreational saltwater
fishing licenses as a funding mechanism.
Supported by the
non-profit Coastal Conservation Association and the Coastal Fisheries
Reform Group, both pro-recreational fishing groups, the legislation,
named the 2013 Fisheries Economic Development Act, has been sponsored
primarily by Rep. Tom Murry, a Wake County Republican; Michael Wray, a
Democrat representing Halifax and Northampton counties; Tim Moffitt, a
Buncombe County Republican, and John R. Bell, a Republican representing
Greene and Craven counties.
State Rep. Paul Tine, a Dare
County Democrat, has pushed back by providing counter information for
his colleagues, many of whom are first-term legislators who are unaware
of the impact on the commercial fishing industry.
“Not all of them have a full understanding of this issue,” Tine said in a telephone interview.
characterized the bill as an effort by special interests aligned with
the recreational fishing industry to eliminate public access to the
fish. He said only about 10 percent of the catch currently goes to
commercial fishermen and consumers, and it would be irresponsible for
lawmakers to make a public resource available only to those with
private means to catch it.
“Basically, this is a very simple
bill, when you get right down to it,” he said. “The issue is who gets
access to the public resource. What this bill does is say, ‘We’re going
to pick a winner and a loser.’”
Dredging and fisheries
management should be a priority for the state, he said, and neither
should be tied to conditions that take away rights to certain fish
Proponents of the gamefish bill, which would require
that the three species are caught by hook-and-line only, contend that
it would enhance the resource for the public and would have
minimal impact on the commercial fishing industry.
information on the CCA Website, which cited statistics from 2004, 2005
and 2008, “very few, if any, commercial fishermen are dependent on
harvests of these three species.”
Stephen Ammons, executive
director of CCA North Carolina, said in a telephone interview that the
current version of the bill does not include ocean stripers.
“We’re trying to be fair,” he said. “The ocean striped bass is more valuable than the inshore striped bass.”
said that without the Atlantic stripers, the three fish account for 1
percent of the commercial harvest. If they’re included, the value goes
up to 2 percent.
But, he contends, if the fish were available
only recreationally, more fishermen would want to fish in the state,
which translates to more money for state and local economies.
feel like the economic value for these three fish are more valuable to
the people of North Carolina as a recreational fishery,” he said.
North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries, however, said in a press
release that allocating the three species to recreational anglers, as
well as prohibiting sales by watermen and purchase by consumers, is
inconsistent with current policy.
concern is based on a variety of factors,” the statement said, “the
greatest issue is that we believe the action is contrary to the N.C.
Fisheries Reform Act, our state’s guiding legislation for managing
N.C.’s coastal fisheries.
“Based on this legislation, the
division recommends strategies to manage the state’s resources for the
benefit of all user groups.”
Marine Fisheries also had similar positions on the three prior gamefish bills that failed to become law.
Even some tackle shop owners who serve the recreational fishing community don’t favor the gamefish bill.
personally think they feel it’s more fish for them,” said Billy
McCaskill at Whalebone Tackle Shop in Nags Head. “And it’s not. They’re
not going to catch any more.”
McCaskill, who also scorned the
proposed fishing license increases as “a tax” and a “money grab,” said
that the idea of taking fish away from commercial fishermen seems to be
in opposition to statewide efforts to promote purchase of local seafood
catch at supermarkets and restaurants.
“How are they going to be able to do this ‘Wild Caught’ (promotion),” he said, “when you can’t even keep anything?”
Frank Folb, an owner of Frank & Fran’s Fisherman’s Friend in Avon, said that he also opposes increases in license fees.
not properly using the money now,” he said. “I don’t know what they
want to do with the money, but can I assure you it’s not going to help
the recreational fishermen.”
Folb, a member of the advisory
committee on the recreational saltwater fishing license, said that
license sales are down 50 percent this year, which he blames on the
cold weather and the ORV beach closures.
But at the same time, Folb said the idea of anglers taking any allocation of fish from watermen is just not fair.
my view, it’s totally wrong,” he said. “It is not what the coast of
North Carolina wants or needs. The commercial fisherman is under more
regulation than any recreational fisherman and he is trying to raise
his family and make a living.”
A joint written statement by the
Ocracoke Working Watermen’s Association and NC Watermen’s United
disputes the proponents’ economic assessments and the contention that
the species would be helped by the gamefish legislation.
commercial fishery valuations for the red drum, speckled trout, and
striped bass fisheries are inaccurate because they only reflect dock
value, which does not take into account economic multipliers associated
with commercial fishing,” the statement said, referring to expenses
such as boats, shipping, retail, gear, taxes and fuel.
The bill, the groups say, would also hurt the heritage, economic diversity and viability of the industry.
status is not needed to maintain healthy stocks,” the statement said.
“It would have a devastating impact on commercial fishing families’
income, eliminate availability of locally caught state fish, a public
resource, to NC residents, tourists, restaurants and seafood retail.”
Foster, owner of the Albatross Fleet in Hatteras and a charter boat
captain since 1958, in an April letter to the General Assembly painted
the recreational versus commercial fishing approach in the bill as
little more than a power grab with no basis in reality.
increase in the number of recreational fishermen over the past 75 years
has been dramatic,” he wrote. “Sportfishing marinas now dominate our
harbors. This growth took place even while commercial fishing
“The annual commercial catch numbers have remained
relatively constant. It did not require a decrease in commercial
fishing activity to generate a corresponding increase in sportfishing,
They are independent of one another.”
And opponents say the
bill ignores the value that commercial fishing has to tourism in North
Carolina, one of the largest economic drivers in the state.
Fishhouse is important to the local fishing economy of Ocracoke as well
as it supports the tourist industry on Ocracoke,” said Hardy Plyler,
the fishhouse manager. “These three fish are essential to being able to maintain our livelihood and the heritage of fishing on Ocracoke Island.”
said that the bill has numerous steps to go in the legislative process,
and he dismissed any notion that it may be a done deal. Legislators, he
believes, will be less supportive once they learn the facts.
trying to make it an economic argument,” Tine said about the bill’s
proponents. “There is a large discrepancy in regards to the real
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