September 25, 2017
Net Changes: 20 Years Since Fisheries Reform
By JENNIFER ALLEN
Coastal Review Online
summit recognizing the 20th anniversary this year of the Fisheries
Reform Act is set to revisit the creation of North Carolina’s first
comprehensive fisheries management law.
Hosted by the nonprofit Outer Banks Catch, the summit is scheduled for
10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 27, at the Washington Civic Center
in Beaufort County. Coffee and donuts will be served at 9:30 a.m. and a
light lunch will be provided. Registration is required. The fee is $10.
With several recent environmental bills in the General Assembly that
would dramatically affect fisheries in North Carolina, organizers are
using the 20th anniversary as an opportunity to put the Fisheries
Reform Act in context, explain what was originally in the act, how the
changes to the act have impacted fisheries and how the future may shape
Gov. James B. Hunt Jr. signed the Fisheries Reform Act into law Aug.
14, 1997, wrapping up a three-year process of meetings, discussions and
debates on the future of fisheries management in the state, according
to the North Carolina of Department of Environmental Quality website.
Momentum began when the General Assembly put a moratorium on the sale
of most state commercial fishing licenses effective July 1, 1994. A
moratorium steering committee was appointed to study the state’s
coastal fisheries management process and to recommend changes to
improve the system, meeting from November 1994 to October 1996, the
final report for the moratorium stated. The reform package was created
by legislators, commercial and recreational fishermen, scientists,
fisheries managers and conservationists, with the goal to ensure
healthy stocks, the recovery of depleted stocks and the best use of
fisheries resources, stated the DEQ website.
During the summit Wednesday, there will be a range of panelists with
varied expertise and connections to the act, some of whom were on the
Sandy Semans Ross, president of Outer Banks Catch, told Coastal Review
Online that part of the nonprofit organization’s mission is to provide
education about fisheries so that the public and legislators can make
“We have worked hard to bring in speakers who have firsthand knowledge
of why and how the Fisheries Reform Act was written and implemented and
the Emerging Issues panel of scientists will talk about topics that
weren’t addressed at the time because they weren’t on anyone’s radar –
a perfect example is rising water temperatures changing migration
patterns,” she said. “We think we have put together a solid program
that will interest the general public, legislators, environmentalists
and both recreation and commercial fishermen.”
The first three panels will address the following questions:
- Why was fisheries reform needed?
- How were the recommendations that were the basis for the Fisheries Reform Act developed?
- How were the new laws implemented?
The last two panels of the day will focus on Emerging Issues, which
will consider new areas of concern fisheries are facing, and Does the
Fisheries Reform need to be tweaked, if so, why or why not?
North Carolina Coastal Federation Director Todd Miller is set to
moderate the discussions. After each panel’s presentation, there will
be a question and answer period. Questions will need to be submitted in
Organizers provided the list of panelists that include but are not limited to the following:
- Bob Lucas: Selma attorney and recreational
fisherman who chaired the Marine Fisheries Commission (MFC) and the
Moratorium Steering Committee that hammered out the recommendations
that were the basis of the Fisheries Reform Act.
- B.J. Copeland: Fisheries scientist and former
Sea Grant executive director who served on the Moratorium Steering
Committee and was a MFC member, now retired.
- Jimmy Johnson: MFC chairman during
implementation who is a former commercial crab house owner and dealer
and is now the Albemarle-Pamlico National Estuary Partnership’s coastal
habitats coordinator for implementation of the Coastal Habitat
Protection Plan mandated by the Fisheries Reform Act.
- Jess Hawkins: Marine biologist, Division of
Marine Fisheries staff liaison for the MFC during creation and
implementation of the Fisheries Reform Act, who later served as MFC
member and is now owner and operator of Crystal Coast Ecotours.
- Susan West: Commercial fishing activist and writer who served on the Moratorium Steering Committee.
- Bob Lane: Commercial fisherman and owner of Capt. Bob’s Seafood restaurant in Hertford.
- Bill Gorham: Recreational fisherman, owner of
Bowed Lures, South Atlantic Fisheries Management Council’s Cobia Sub
Panel and Citizen Science Advisory Panel.
- Anne Deaton: Habitat assessment coordinator of the Division of Marine Fisheries Habitat Enhancement and Protection Section.
- Joel Fodrie: Fisheries ecologist and associate
professor at the University of North Carolina Institute of Marine
Sciences in Morehead City.
- Sara Mirabilo: Marine scientist and fisheries extension specialist with the North Carolina Sea Grant program.
- Wilson Laney: Senior biologist,
Fisheries/Ecological Services at U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Raleigh
and adjunct assistant professor, N.C. State University’s Department of
In addition, North Carolina Sea Grant, North Carolina Division of
Marine Fisheries and the Albemarle-Pamlico National Estuary Partnership
will provide exhibits and information about water quality and habitat
and commercial fishing gear.
explained that she was appointed to the North Carolina Fisheries
Moratorium Steering Committee. The committee reviewed the fisheries
management process in North Carolina and issued the report with
recommendations on ways management could be improved that formed the
backbone of the FRA.
At the time of her appointment, she was president of a women-led group
that advocated for commercial fishing families on Hatteras and Ocracoke
West also played a major role as the principal investigator for the
Fisheries Reform Act oral history project, “The 1997 NC Fisheries
Reform Act: An Oral History Perspective.” In 2016, 13 oral history
interviews were conducted with fishermen, scientists, environmental
advocates and resource managers instrumental in crafting and
implementing the act, according to the website. The oral history
project was funded by North Carolina Sea Grant’s Community
Collaborative Research Grants program, a partnership with the William
R. Kenan Jr. Institute for Engineering, Technology and Science based at
North Carolina State University. The interview recordings and
transcriptions are available online on the Carolina Coastal Voices and
the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Voices from the
“I developed the proposal and assembled a team of strong collaborators
with skills in coastal ecosystems management, oral history, and audio
recording that executed the project, conducting oral history interviews
and creating podcasts that tell the Fisheries Reform Act story,” West
West added that the Fisheries Reform Act created a transparent and
orderly process to what had been a chaotic system for managing
fisheries. That process was based on the idea that an inclusive,
collaborative approach that supports the exchange of information
between regulators, scientists, and stakeholders results in wise
“The oral history interviews support a deeper, more accurate picture of
the past by augmenting information provided in public records.
The material in the interviews digs deep into why and how policy
developed. The lessons in those first-hand accounts are
applicable today,” she said.
There are three podcasts in the series: “Part One: Troubled Waters”
examines the state of fisheries in North Carolina prior to the
moratorium on the sale of commercial fishing licenses; “Part Two:
Fishing As Religion” explores the path from the moratorium to passage
of the act; and “Part Three: Hindsight is 20/20” looks at the successes
and shortcomings of the act.