May 3, 2013
UPDATE: Watermen plan a show in force
in Raleigh to oppose gamefish bill
BY CATHERINE KOZAK
in North Carolina plan a show of force in Raleigh on Monday, when
members of the public have been invited to give feedback on a proposed
gamefish bill that would make specked trout, red drum, and estuarine
striped bass no longer available to consumers and commercial fishermen.
“Folks are very concerned about this legislation,” said David
Hilton, president of the Ocracoke Working Watermen’s Association. “All
the leaders in the community are definitely calling all the fishermen
Hilton said the association has combined forces with
North Carolina Watermen’s United and Carteret County Fishermen’s
Association to rally opposition to the bill and to educate people about
the negative consequences to the market, the industry, and the
“It hurts seafood consumers,” he said. “It hurts
Eastern North Carolina in a disproportionate way because those fish are
relied on – even in small numbers. That’s the money that gets recycled
in the local community in the wintertime.”
Known as the 2013
Fisheries Economic Development Act, House Bill 983 would designate the
three fish as gamefish, which would effectively allocate all the catch
to recreational anglers. The fish would have to be caught only by
hook-and-line, and commercial sale would be prohibited.
all of the bill’s sponsors represent inland counties, and coastal
legislators were not consulted before the bill was introduced, said
Rep. Michael Speciale, a Craven County Republican.
actively fighting this,” he said, adding that he has been flooded with
nasty, sometimes threatening, e-mails from members of recreational
When he read up on the legislation, Speciale
said it was clear to him that the bill was not backed by science. What
it boils down to, he said, is lawmakers choosing sides for control of a
“To me, this is a liberty issue,” he said.
“It’s not government’s place to take away a public trust from a segment
of people because they see a perceived economic benefit.”
said that he initially asked for an opportunity to allow
representatives from the recreational and commercial fishing industries
to discuss the issue, and a meeting was set for noon on Monday. But
then he said it was moved to 1:30 p.m. and changed to a public forum,
which he fears could become “a numbers game” counting which side can
get more bodies in the room supporting their position. Speakers will
each be allowed two minutes.
The smaller meeting would have
been more productive, Speciale said, but bill supporters “knew if they
sat down and discussed it logically, they wouldn’t have a leg to stand
The bill has been assigned to the Commerce and Jobs
Development committee, of which Speciale is a member. He said of
the 30 or so legislators he has talked to about it, none are in
“I’m going to try to kill it before it gets to the
House floor,” he said. “There are a lot of people on both sides and
there are threats on both sides. If I lose votes, I don’t care . . . I
can walk away with my integrity intact.”
Proponents with the
North Carolina Coastal Conservation Association, a nonprofit
recreational fishing group that is pushing the bill, contend that
gamefish designation would benefit North Carolina by creating more jobs
and tourism revenue because more anglers would come to the state.
to information on the CCA Website, in 2012, only 41 commercial fishing
“participants” had $5,000 or more in landings of the three fish. The
group’s contention is that gamefish status would help end overfishing
and would enhance the resource.
“It is designed to help foster a
recreational fishery currently worth exponentially more in dollars and
jobs than the commercial fishery,” the site said.
statement released on Thursday by the North Carolina Division of Marine
Fisheries, the division said that no biological evidence exists that
shows that game fish designation would improve stocks of the three
species or guarantee sustainable harvest in the future. To the
contrary, the statement said, the species’ fishery management plans
adopted by the state have already achieved sustainable harvest “while
providing fair and equitable allocation of these fishery resources.”
it said, the status of the red drum population is as good or better
than other South Atlantic states that manage exclusively for the
Recreational anglers have caught about
80 percent of the total harvest of red drum in North Carolina since
2010 and about 70 percent of spotted sea trout for the last 10 years,
according to the division. Commercial fishing accounts for about 78
percent of estuarine striped bass landings in most of North
If the harvest and possession of the three
species were outlawed, the inevitable outcome would be an increase in
discarded fish because commercial fishermen would not be allowed to
keep bycatch of the species. Since the discards wouldn’t be
counted, stock assessments would become inaccurate and conflicts
between the fishing groups would likely increase.
in recreational fishing activity in North Carolina is already
consistent with, and at times even greater than, other South Atlantic
states that have gamefish and/or net bans,” the statement said,
“calling into question the need or capacity of North Carolina to
accommodate even more increased recreational activity while maintaining
viable fish stocks.”
Hilton said that even though there may be
disagreement about the science of fisheries management, the division
deserves credit for its management of the stocks of the three species.
He also gives high marks to Rep. Paul Tine, a Dare County Democrat, for
his efforts in fighting the gamefish status.
will be attending the meeting, he said, as well other supporters who
appreciate the value of wild caught local seafood.
“It’s like a team. Every person is playing a role,” he said, referring to those working to defeat the bill.
County is sending a busload of people, and others plan to carpool. The
bus will also stop to pick up folks in Craven, Pamlico, and Onslow
“I’m expecting a whole lot of people to go,” said Rusty Taylor, a commercial fisherman from Harker’s Island.
County watermen will also be represented at the meeting, said Jamie
Reibel, a charter boat captain and commercial fisherman from Manteo who
is a member of the Dare County Commission for Working Watermen.
bad weather conditions lately have kept everyone off the water, he said
that if it’s a pretty day on Monday, a lot of watermen would need to
fish, so it’s hard to predict how many will be in Raleigh.
“Right now, I’d say 50 people, rain or shine,” he said. “If it’s nasty weather, there could be hundreds.”
Reibel said that he definitely plans to be there to make his views known and to counter the lobbyists and campaign donors.
“There’s nobody for it,” he said about the gamefish measure, “unless they’ve been paid to be for it.”
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Click here to read a statement from the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries on the gamefish bill.
For more information on HB 983 or to sign the online petition, please go to: http://www.change.org/petitions/nc-general-assembly-keep-local-seafood-on-nc-dinner-plates-oppose-nc-house-bill-983.
The public forum will be held on Monday, May 6, 1:30 p.m. at the Legislative Office Building, 300 N. Salisbury Street, Raleigh.