May 17, 2013

UPDATE: Gamefish bill is alive and well in the legislature

BY CATHERINE KOZAK


Through the chaos of changeover day in the state legislature, the proposed gamefish bill continues to sit quietly in a committee, still legislatively viable and apparently not forgotten.

“It’s definitely not dead,” said Deans Eatman, a staff member in the office of Rep. Michael Wray, a Northampton Democrat who is one of the bill’s primary sponsors.

Confusion reigned Friday over which proposed legislation survived changeover on Thursday, the day that bills had to move from one legislative chamber to the other to survive.  But appropriation bills were not subject to changeover rules.

House Bill 983, which would make red drum, speckled trout and estuarine striped bass available only to recreational anglers, would provide funds to compensate commercial fishermen for income lost. The bill also would increase the fee for the recreational saltwater fishing license, and provide funds for dredging channels and for marine fisheries observers.

The gamefish proposal would make the three species off-limits to commercial fishermen and consumers. The proposed law requires the fish to be caught by hook-and-line only, and bars their sale.

Recreational fishing groups contend the bill is needed to conserve the fisheries, but watermen say that it would only deplete the fisheries and deprive them of important income and the consumer of the local wild catch.

At a public forum held in Raleigh on May 8, hundreds of coastal commercial fishermen, including a contingent from the Outer Banks, converged on the meeting as a show of force in opposition.  Supporters of bill, which has been promoted by the Coastal Conservation Association of North Carolina, a non-profit recreational fishing group, also spoke at the 2 -hour meeting.

Eatman said that theoretically the bill could carry over until the 2014 short session, which is the continuation of the current legislative session.

“As the budget process progresses,” he said, “it could get taken up.”

Wray was in meetings and unavailable for a telephone interview on Friday, Eatman said.

Rep. Paul Tine, a Dare County Democrat, said Friday that there is speculation that the gamefish bill may be pared down to just red drum. Even so, Tine said he made it clear he would still oppose it.

“If they get that,” he said, referring to gamefish supporters, “they get their nose under the tent.”

In early May, the Georgia state legislature approved a law, backed by the CCA, that designated red drum as gamefish.  Red drum is also exclusively a recreational catch in Florida and South Carolina. 

Tine said that it is unclear if the bill will be changed, or when or if it will move from the Commerce and Job Development Committee –where it currently resides. The next steps in the process would be referral to the Finance Committee, and then to the Appropriations Committee, and finally, to the floor for a vote.

Rep. Tom Murry, R-Wake, a primary sponsor of the bill, was unavailable on Friday for comment on whether the bill may be changed. Wray said through Eatman that he had no knowledge about any potential revision of the bill.

But Tine said he is encouraged that there are indications that the proposed gamefish legislation lacks the support to pass.

“I think with the way the bill is right now,” Tine said, “we have a good chance of beating it.”


comments powered by Disqus