I hope all of you will read Susan West?s article on the Fishing Page about the bill recently introduced into the North Carolina General Assembly to give coastal gamefish status to red drum and spotted sea trout, also known as speckled trout.
Red drum and spotted sea trout would be off-limits to commercial harvest in North Carolina if a bill introduced March 31 becomes law?House Bill 918, Designation of Coastal Game Fish, would prohibit the sale and purchase of the species and prohibit the use of nets to catch the fish.
In other words, commercial fishermen working for a living would no longer be able to catch and sell these fish. They would become the private resource of recreational fishermen who fish for the fun of it.
It also means that unless you are a recreational fisherman with access to the resource, you will no longer be able to buy drum or speckled trout in a fish market or order it in a restaurant. I hope all of you understand what an outrageous proposal this is.
The group behind this bill, the Coastal Fisheries Reform Group, which represents itself as a grassroots reform organization, would like us to think that it is ?protecting? marine resources with this power grab.
This is from the group?s Web site:
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.
The bill is also supported by the Coastal Conservation Association of North Carolina, which also is selling this move as a measure to conserve the resource.
If you believe that this group is prompted by the ?welfare of the resource,? then you must also believe that the beaches on Hatteras and Ocracoke should be closed to ORVs to ?protect the resources.?
The Coastal Fisheries Reform Group?s secondary justification is that commercial fishermen just don?t kill as many of these fish as the recreational fishermen do, so the income from drum and speckled trout for the commercial guys is a drop in the bucket.
The ?reform? group does note that it favors compensating the commercial fishermen for their loss by giving them their own ?stimulus package.? Susan West writes that HB 918 authorizes the state fisheries commission to pay commercial fishermen for lost income, using up to $1 million from the Marine Resources Fund, the fund for revenue from recreational fishing license sales.
And, finally, the group notes that recreational fishermen are worth a lot more money to the state?s economy than the commercial fishermen — never mind that commercial fishing is a time-honored occupation in our coastal communities and an integral part of our historic and cultural heritage.
But, hey, the guys who fish for fun will bring in more money ? while they help conserve the resources.
This is not only a ridiculous argument, but a real affront to commercial fishermen who have been struggling with increased regulation, higher prices for gas, and other problems. Now the economy is really bad and we should kick them again while they are down?
If the commercial catch of drum and spotted sea trout is such a small percentage of landings, then why can?t the commercial folks keep their meager catch?
According to Susan West, 25 commercial fishermen on Hatteras will be affected if these fish are reserved for recreational fishermen only. That is 25 families with reduced income. It may be a small reduction, but commercial fishing families are already living on the edge.
While I was doing some research on this topic, I came across a guest column that Ernie Foster, who runs the Albatross Fleet of charter boats in Hatteras village, wrote for The Island Free Press in October of 2007 when President George W. Bush declared striped bass and red drum as gamefish in federal waters.
I couldn?t express my astonishment and outrage on this issue any more eloquently than Ernie did in 2007.
?According to an article in The Washington Post,? Ernie wrote in 2007, ?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 want to read the full text of Ernie?s excellent column, go to:
And please remember that you can support both recreational and commercial fishing and their related industries on the island. It doesn?t have to be ? and should not be — one or the other.