July 7, 2015
Commentary: CCA is all about
catching fish for fun, not food
By SANDY SEMANS and BROWNY DOUGLAS
of the June 26, 2015 op-ed in the Raleigh, N.C., News & Observer
written by the executive director of the Coastal Conservation
Association of North Carolina might have the impression that the
organization is all about protecting marine resources.
But the CCA's record over the last 30 years shows a grab for the
resource – working to make sure that access to the public trust
resource is restricted to recreational anglers and off limits to
commercial fishermen. It’s an ugly track record with calls for gamefish
status for three delicious fish, which would make them off limits to
commercial fishermen and remove striped bass, speckled trout, and red
drum from your dinner plate.
The CCA is not an environmental conservation-supporting
organization. That is simply fact and is supported by the group’s
activities. Its message is always aimed at stealing away consumer
access to our fisheries – they want to take it off your table!
Most of this resource’s owners don’t choose, desire, or have means to
fish for their “share” of the fish. Instead, they pay for seafood at
fish markets, grocery stores, or at their favorite restaurants. They
aren’t buying what already belongs to them. They are paying for someone
to catch it, deliver it to the docks, and make it available to them.
The N.C. Fisheries Reform Act of 1997 was enacted after more than a
year of meetings of stakeholders representing commercial fishermen and
the recreational sector, environmental groups, scientists and
regulators who reached broad-based consensus on the future of the
state's fisheries. There was back-patting, yelling, threats, pleas, and
political dialogue between the members of the groups.
Commercial fishermen knew changes were coming, and the industry trade
association, the North Carolina Fisheries Association, visited with
local fishing groups to find out what they wanted. Commercial fishing
changes along the coast based on available species, so the replies
varied with exception of one consistent request: “Make them protect and
enhance water quality and habitat because, if they don’t, it won’t
matter what regulations they put against us, the fisheries will die.”
The commercial fishermen knew that when water is fouled by runoff,
chemicals, and pollutants from septic tanks, fish and other marine
species die. And the loss of aquatic vegetation leaves juvenile fish
and shrimp without a place to hide from predators – it is a death
sentence. Crabs were swimming near the surface to try to get oxygen.
Dead fish were floating with the current.
But it wasn't new. In 1976, Connell Purvis and other DMF staff compiled
data to identify nursery areas where finfish and crustaceans spawn and
juveniles grow. The authors noted that “Extensive agricultural land
clearing and drainage operations surround the area. The conversion of
large areas from swamp to farmland, even though known by state
officials to be economically-beneficial, caused concern about damage to
the environment. Of major concern are changes in the water quality of
the sounds and estuaries, caused by rapid runoff of water. Although
this problem cannot be completely avoided, some of its effects can be
minimized by the application of sound management policies based on
water-resources technology now available.”
Fast-forward 20 years to the Fisheries Reform Act. Fishermen asked for
Habitat and Water Quality Protection Plans, and all others at the table
readily agreed. It was the rare point that everyone supported.
But when “mark-up” (review the draft language of the bill by
stakeholders before being submitted to the General Assembly) occurred,
the industry found that it had been sold out by the CCA and the
environmental groups at the table.
The development and implementation of Habitat and Water Quality
Protection Plans was in the draft language, but there was no “hammer”
-- a date for the plans to be implemented. Without that, the inclusion
Objection by the commercial industry was met with total silence,
including from the CCA's executive director and its lobbyist – Dick
Brame and Sandy Sands, respectively.
The development and implementation of the plans was traded for
something else that they wanted. A representative of one of the
environmental groups weakly proclaimed that if an effective date was
added to the plans, the legislation would not pass.
To say that “dog don't hunt” is an understatement. The total membership
of all the groups at the table was so large and so inclusive that the
truth was that anything put forth from the group was bound to get broad
acceptance in the General Assembly.
It was a decade before the plans were developed, but since then, few
plans have been implemented. If the CCA was a “conservation” group, it
would join the commercial fishing industry in demanding funding so that
water quality and habitat can be restored.
As CCA executive director David Sneed noted in his op-ed, after eight
years of no commercial harvest, the river herring fishery hasn't
Why would it? The same environmental issues that led to its collapse
still exist – loss of habitat, decreased access to spawning areas due
to the construction of dams, fishing, and increased predation due to
the recovering striped bass populations. Would he like to join the
commercial industry in its quest to get the water quality and habitat
protection plans fully implemented so that there is a chance of
Identifying the problem with southern flounder is impossible because of
the lack of sound peer-reviewed science. The problem is that there is
no data from South Carolina and Georgia. And the Atlantic States Marine
Fisheries Commission and the South Atlantic Fisheries Management
Council won't do a stock assessment because of budget cuts.
That suits CCA just fine because ill-informed political muscle works much better for them that solid science.
Commercial flounder fishermen are shut down at least until Sept. 1
because of interaction with federally protected sea turtles. The
fact that interactions are more prevalent in recreational fisheries
draws no attention.
If you doubt the facts about recreational interactions with turtles,
check with the North Carolina State University veterinarian school that
does the necropsies on turtles and ask about the leading cause of
turtle mortality, absent disease. You'll find that it's monofilament
And check with the National Marine Fisheries Service and ask for a copy
of the latest turtle stock assessment. (Hint: Don't hold your breath.
There isn't one.)
No, the CCA isn't a conservation group.
PS: If you invite them over for dinner, padlock the refrigerator because they are after your food.
Semans, who lives in Stumpy Point, is a retired newspaper editor and
reporter who now works as a free-lance writer. Browny Douglas of
Manteo is a former commercial long-lineand gill-net fisherman who
continues to support the industry.)