No news was apparently good news at the latest meeting today (March 1) of the Legislative Research Commission Committee on Marine Fisheries.

Discussion of the proposed gamefish-status bill, House Bill 353, was not on the agenda, and the bill's primary sponsor, Rep. Darrell McCormick (R-Yadkin), wasn't even in attendance – he was reported to be under the weather, back home in Yadkinville – at the meeting in Raleigh.

But sources indicated that McCormick has decided to ask that the bill be sent to the full house for consideration during the coming legislature short session in May.

The bill is in the Committee on Commerce and Job Development, chaired by Rep. Danny McComas (R-Wilmington), a co-sponsor of the gamefish-status bill that, if passed, would prohibit the commercial sale of spotted seatrout, red drum and striped bass from North Carolina waters.

The legislative procedure runs something like this: McCormick can request of McComas that HB 353 be pushed out of committee for a vote of the full House, and then to the Senate for a vote. McComas can immediately push the bill through, or he can decide to hold the bill in committee until he believes it has the votes for passage.

The Coastal Fisheries Reform Group announced last week that it was going to push for a complete gill-net ban in coastal waters because of Legislative inaction on the gamefish bill.

Sen. Harry Brown (R-Jacksonville), the Senate majority leader and co-chair of the marine fisheries committee, said after the March 1 meeting that it was his understanding that McCormick was pushing the bill.

"Darrell is going to send it to the House," Brown said. "We can't take up bills in this committee, but there was so much demand that we needed to have it heard here (in the February meeting).

"We will not make a recommendation on a gamefish bill. His bill will go to a committee and be debated."

McCormick could not be reached for comment.

The discussion in the March 1 meeting centered on aspects of the committee's study of the way North Carolina's coastal fisheries are managed.

The future management of menhaden was a chief topic: Committee members generally agreed that, while they feel that North Carolina needs to protect the tiny, oily baitfish, they are willing to wait for an upcoming stock assessment and report from the Atlantic States Fisheries Management Commission before making any decisions.

Brown and several other members representing coastal districts spoke of the need to come up with funding to keep inlets along North Carolina's coast dredged and navigable, with the federal government apparently cutting off funding.

There also was discussion about possibly folding the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries and N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission into the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, but legislators want more details on how and why other states have their freshwater and saltwater fisheries managers under one roof.

The remainder of the meeting was highlighted – or lowlighted – by the verbal meanderings of Sen. Don East of Pilot Mountain (R-Surry), who wants no part of a combined marine/freshwater fisheries/wildlife agency and has expressed at every turn his opposition to a gamefish bill and any other legislation that might negatively affect commercial fishing, but instead is interested in transferring enforcement of coastal fish dealers from the NCDMF to the N.C. Department of Agriculture.

"If we consider seafood a commodity, like beef, pork and poultry … it should fall under the oversight of the Department of Agriculture," East said. "Seafood … it's meat, not unlike other foods that come under the auspices of the Department of Agriculture."

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