Although the 16-member committee was formed after the tabling last spring of House Bill 353 - a proposal to give spotted seatrout, red drum and striped bass gamefish status - other topics may be more pressing to individual legislators, according to Sen. Harry Brown (R-Onslow/Jones).
Brown is co-chair of the committee, along with Rep. Darrell McCormick (R-Forsyth/Yadkin/Surry). McCormick was a major sponsor of HB353, which never reached Brown's side of the aisle in the Senate for review.
"I think what (the review committee) is going to look at is what other states have done, their organization of (saltwater management)," Brown said. "You know, being on the coast, I have a lot of guys I'm trying to educate about this. There's got to be a better way to do it, to streamline the process.
"I think the main goal is to manage the fisheries as best we can with the best information we can get. I want to accomplish that with the committee's work. One of my staff is doing research on what other states are doing."
Brown said his approach to the committee is to work "with the commercial guys and recognize (netting) is a way of life. I want us to be fair with whatever we do."
But he said his ultimate goal is to recognize problems in fisheries management and formulate solutions that "would put all parties in a better position."
"But it's tough to do," Brown said. "Sometimes when you do things, some aren't going to like it."
Brown said some committee members who don't live on the coast don't have the perspective or constituent concerns he has.
"When you live on the coast, you understand (local) issues better," he said. "Sneads Ferry (is) in my district; it's been a fishing village for hundreds of years, so you got to have some sympathy for what they do.
"At the same time, we've got to protect our fisheries - there has to be balance."
Brown said he had expressed his concerns to McCormick.
"The last thing I want is for this to be a coastal-versus-the-rest-of-the-state thing," Brown said.
One of Brown's major concerns is allowing professional fisheries managers to do their job using science and not have to worry about their jobs. In the past, North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries directors have been fired for enacting policies and making proclamations that upset commercial fishermen, who then contacted legislators who had the power to force their resignations.
William T. Hogarth, director of NCDMR from 1986 to 1994, is the prime example. Hogarth was forced to resign as director of the agency. He later became an assistant director of the the National Marine Fisheries Service, and then moved into the top position of that agency until he retired in December 2007.
"That's actually my No. 1 concern: Taking the pressure off that group that will allow them to do their jobs," Brown said.
For example, Brown said that Louis Daniel III, current DMF director, should be free to manage fisheries according to science.
"(If Daniel) decides we need to shut down a fishery for two months, then that's what we should do," Brown said. "Right now he's under pressure to not do what his people and he know we should do. (The review committee) needs to find a way to get the pressure off him to make the right decisions and protect our fisheries.
"It's a shame when a person gets fired for doing his job. I want that stopped and everyone will win, and I'm willing to make tough decisions."
Brown said he didn't want the review committee to decide the gamefish status of red drum, spotted sea trout or striped bass. He said that decision should belong to NCDMF and its director.
"If we voted for that and it passed, I don't think a single eastern (legislator) would vote for it, and that'd cause hard feelings, and I don't want hard feelings," said Brown, who believes a legislative law for gamefish status might set a course toward dangerous water "because somebody could say the white-tailed rabbit or a particular bird needs to be protected.
"If we're not careful, we could open the door where (the legislature would be prodded) to regulate or control the take of everything."
While acknowledging NCDMF statistics that show netting of striped bass, speckled trout and red drum only totals 2 percent of the annual commercial harvests and current netting harvests can be wasteful of fish, Brown said commercial fishermen in his district dispute those numbers.
"We've got to make sure we have our figures right," he said. "When (the numbers) are skewed (against the commercial side), that makes it hard for me.
"You've got (some) bad guys on both sides, and that makes (making a good decision) tough. I think the real problem (with netting) is part-timers, weekend people or new guys. I think the old-timers know how to do it correctly (without being wasteful)."
For example, Brown said if a person has a fulltime job elsewhere, obtaining a commercial fishing license probably shouldn't be easy.
"We may want to look at how commercial licenses are given out," he said.
Other proposals Brown said may be considered included rolling the North Carolina Marine Fisheries Commission into the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, or getting rid of the NCMFC entirely.
"The direction I'd like to go in is to reorganize what we have and put people in power to make decisions without having to worry about their jobs," Brown said. "Let them manage the resource and get the politics out of it."
Brown said the saltwater review committees hearing dates remain Jan. 5, Feb. 2, March 1 and April 5.
The following is a list of committee members; click on their names to send emails in support of gamefish status.
• Harry Brown
• Don East
• Thom Goolsby
• Bill Rabon
• Tommy Tucker
• Jean Preston
• Stan White
• Darrell McCormick
• Dan Ingle
• Ruth Samuelson
• Danny McComas
• Bryan Holloway
• Pat McElraft
• Tim Spear
• Brent Jackson
• Tom Murry