We knew they would be.
Groups such as the Coastal Conservation Association and the Coastal Fisheries Reform Group are making another brazen attempt to reserve three of North Carolina’s most sought after fish for recreational anglers only.
A bipartisan group of representatives in the North Carolina General Assembly introduced House Bill 353 on Tuesday, March 15. The four who introduced it are Republican Reps. Darrell McCormick, Dan Ingle, and Ruth Samuelson and Democratic Rep. Rick Glazier. Glazier is from Fayetteville. The other three are from Winston-Salem, Charlotte, and Burlington.
As of today, there were 17 co-sponsors, both Republican and Democratic, and most represent inland districts.
HB 353 would give gamefish status to red drum, spotted sea trout, and striped bass.
The bill stipulates that the three fish can be caught only by hook-and-line and only by recreational fishermen.
The three fish would be off-limits to commercial fishermen and could not be bought, sold, or traded. They would no longer be available in fish markets or restaurants.
If you want to eat one of these fish, you would have to catch it yourself or forget it.
That means that those of us who don’t own a boat, can’t afford to charter one, don’t have the equipment and skill to surf fish, or just don’t want to catch them ourselves won’t be eating red drum, striped bass, or speckled trout.
The same “conservation” groups pushed a gamefish bill in the 2009 General Assembly. That bill, which gave gamefish status only to red drum and speckled trout, died in committee.
After several dramatic striped bass kills, probably by commercial trawlers, appeared all over the Internet this winter, the recreational fishing groups realized how politically expedient it would be to add striped bass to their bill this year.
And some observers of the fishing industry think the bill might pass this year.
There are new lawmakers in Raleigh. Rep. Tim Spear of Creswell, who represents our coastal area in the House, was instrumental last year in defeating the gamefish enthusiasts, but powerful Democratic Senate leader Marc Basnight won re-election but lost his leadership role and resigned earlier this year.
So here they come again, hoping for a more receptive audience this time around.
Some of these recreational fishing groups, such as CCA, are well funded and powerful.
And they get support from citizens and lawmakers who either don’t know or don’t care about their elitist views of a valuable public resource.
These groups and people who support them believe that those who fish for fun should have all of these fish reserved for their pleasure, and their pleasure alone.
They don’t care about commercial fishermen who work – and work hard -- for a living.
They did care enough about working watermen to put $1 million in the bill to compensate some commercial fishermen who will lose out. How condescending can you get?
Nor do they care about fishing communities or the historic and cultural importance of fishing for a living.
In 2009, at least some groups pretended they were acting in the name of conservation. The Coastal Fisheries Reform Group’s website noted at that time:
“Prompted by the welfare of the resource, we are subsequently forced to intervene through the avenue available to us through our North Carolina General Assembly by introducing a bill that would declare the Spotted Sea Trout and the Red Drum as Game Fish”
This time around, the Coastal Fisheries Reform Group doesn’t even mention conservation on its website news item about HB353.
“These 3 fish only represent less than 2% of the commercial harvest values here in NC, but combined the positive economic impacts easily exceed 250 million dollars to the NC economy annually as recreational sport fish. South Carolina designated these fish as game fish in the mid 1980's, and it is high time NC follows suit!”
This time around, their big talking point is that people who fish for fun are more valuable to the economy than people who fish for a living.
Yes, it’s true that commercial landings of all three fish are only a fraction of what the recreational anglers manage to catch each year.
In 2009, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) reported that commercial fishermen on the coast landed 7.2 million pounds of striped bass, while the killing for fun crowd landed three times that amount -- 21.4 million pounds.
In 2009, according to the North Carolina Marine Fisheries Commission, commercial fishermen landed only 194,296 pounds of red drum, compared to 358,180 pounds caught by recreational anglers. For spotted sea trout, the numbers were 320,247 pounds for commercial landings, and 833,577 pounds for recreational.
So why can’t people who fish for fun share some of the resource with men and women who catch fish to feed their families?
They can still have fun and spend lots of money doing it. Those of us who want to can still buy red drum, spotted sea trout, and striped bass in markets and restaurants. Commercial fishermen can still earn money catching their paltry share, if they choose.
And don’t let the striped bass kills this winter, as inexcusable as they were, fool you into thinking that commercial fishermen are the only ones wasting fish.
According to ASMFC’s 2010 annual report, recreational discard mortalities, assuming an 8 percent mortality in releases, were 703,000 fish, a 67 percent decrease from 2.1 million fish in 2006. Recreational anglers landed a total of 1.9 million fish in 2009.
Right now, it is important for you to contact your representative and senator in the General Assembly.
I hope you will let them know that the grab for gamefish status is a misguided and greedy move by recreational anglers.
Fish in the ocean are a public resource. They can continue to be shared by both the folks who want to fish for fun and those who fish for a living.
Right now, HB 353 has had a first reading in the house and has been assigned to a subcommittee, which will probably schedule a hearing soon.
I am sure you will find it as ironic as I do that this bill, which will threaten the jobs of some commercial fishermen, has been assigned to the House Committee on Commerce & Job Development’s Subcommittee on Business & Labor.
Finally, I close with words from a guest column that Ernie Foster, captain of the Albatross Fleet, wrote in October, 2007, after the federal government declared striped bass a gamefish in federal waters.
“According to an article in The Washington Post,” Ernie wrote, “the executive director of Maryland’s CCA, Robert Glenn, believes that striped bass are too valuable to be ‘plundered for commercial sale.’ Killing for fun is good. Feeding others within highly controlled harvest restrictions is bad. Go figure.”
His column continues:
“As you look up and down the coast, from Maine to Key West, in every marina you see boats, boats, and more boats. Most are pleasure craft. Does anyone believe that people are buying such expensive toys, with their discretionary dollars, because they are not having fun? And yet, the notion prevails that we must get rid of professional fishermen so that we will have even more fun.
Even more fun? We are already having fun, folks. Otherwise, we would not be spending our money on the charters, the boats, and the tackle. Do we really need to wipe out fellow citizens financially, socially and geographically so that we can have even more fun? I was taught a lot of lessons growing up in Hatteras, going to public schools, and at the university. Choosing even more fun over the welfare of my fellow citizens was not one of them.
How have we come to this point, this place, where it has become public policy to prevent our professional fishermen from providing a product to the American consumer? What is driving politicians to approve policy and regulations that eliminate a significant part of our coastal heritage and that eliminate independent businessmen from taking care of themselves and their families? Have we, as a nation, come to believe that all seafood must be imported, unless you are one of the approximately 3 percent of American citizens who personally fish in saltwater? How elitist is a national policy that bars all but 3 percent of our citizens from acquiring an abundant, nationally controlled, natural resource?”
If you are as outraged as many of us here on Hatteras and Ocracoke are about this bill, write your representatives, and please do it now. There is a county by county list with e-mail addresses at the end of this blog, and there are also names and e-mails for the
Committee on Commerce & Job Development/Subcommittee on Business & Labor.
FOR MORE INFORMATON
CLICK HERE to read a blog about the 2009 effort to declare gamefish status for red drum and speckled trout.
CLICK HERE to read a blog about the Coastal Fisheries Reform Group.
CLICK HERE to read the text of House Bill 353.
CLICK HERE to see a list of state representatives and senators by county with their e-mail addresses.
Members of the House Committee on Commerce & Job Development’s Subcommittee on Business & Labor are:
[email protected] (Committee chair & sponsor of bill)
[email protected] (bill sponsor)
[email protected] (Speaker of the House)