The N.C. General Assembly's Committee on Marine Resources will hold its final open-to-the-public meeting April 5 at Raleigh in the Legislative Office Building, Room 643, 1 p.m.

 A variety of topics will be on the table, including a possible merger of the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, possibly giving Marine Patrol officers the capability to enforce federal fishing regulations, a survey of the penalties involved in saltwater fishing violations – including increases in penalties for selling illegal fish or falsifying trip tickets – and other marine-resources topics.

A merger between the two agencies, according to a legislative source, has the most potential to be promoted out of committee because it would entail savings of possibly millions of dollars by eliminating duplicate functions. Sources expect some kind of merger proposal to be approved.

Any of these topics approved by the Marine Resources Committee likely will be turned into bills or set aside for more study.

The gamefish-status bill, H 353 – to prohibit commercial sale of spotted seatrout, red drum and striped bass – is not scheduled to be discussed. It has been referred to another committee and is likely to be brought to the House for a vote when the legislature's short-session convenes in May.
 H 353 was first introduced in 2010 but died in committee. It was reintroduced in 2011 and had majority support in both houses, but it was sent to the Committee on Marine Resources for further study as part of a deal between Republicans and a handful of house Democrats to provide Republicans with a veto-proof state budget.

Rep. Darrell McCormick (R-Yadkinville), co-chairman of the committee and a sponsor of H353, pulled the bill out of his committee and sent it to the House Commerce Committee to be managed by Rep. Daniel McComas (R-New Hanover). McComas would manage the bill in the House for a vote in the May short session, however, McComas, announced his decision not to run for re-election, and the bill was handed over to Tom Murry (R-Wake County).

A source said the chance of the gamefish-status bill passing muster in the short session is 50-50 because legislators don't want to discuss controversial proposals before the November 2012 elections. However, the same source also said that Gov. Beverly Perdue isn't likely to veto H 353 if it passes the House and Senate in the short session.

The source also predicted if Republican Pat McCrory becomes governor in November and Republicans remain in the majority in the legislature, gamefish-status for spotted seatrout, red drum and striped bass likely will become law in 2013 and netting of them for profit will end.

If H 353 doesn't advance through this latest legislative process, the Coastal Fisheries Reform Group has said it will promote a total net ban for all N.C. waters.

No public comments will be heard during the April 5 hearing.