The state legislature's Committee on Marine Resources met for a fourth and final time April 5 to study legislative proposals to present to the General Assembly when it meets again for its short session in May.

However, the committee dropped a bombshell when the most important proposal on the meeting's agenda – to merge the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission - was converted into another passive topic for future study.

Co-chairman Darrell McCormick (R-Yadkinville) and his staff had creating a comprehensive plan that would change significantly the way North Carolina's marine resources are managed. McCormick, who hoped to lessen the influence of the commercial-fishing-dominated N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission, had crafted during the 2011 legislative session the gamefish-status bill (H 353). This past March, McCormick moved the gamefish-status bill out of the study committee and sent it to the House Commerce committee.



"I'm still managing H 353. I hope we will be able to get a vote on it before the short session ends, and it will be successful before I leave this place," said McCormick, who is not running for re-election and will leave office in January 2013.



Several of the saltwater committee's more important proposals apparently struck out before Thursday's meeting. Also, in a confusing move, instead of first reading the proposed merger bill – prepared by McCormick – as is common practice, then reading amendments, committee counsel Jeff Hudson  enumerated proposed changes first, referring to specific pages and sentences not immediately in front of committee members nor a small audience of visiting recreational anglers, commercial netters and press representatives. Moreover, none of the items in McCormick's original draft that were deleted were mentioned by Hudson, including key proposals such as "to monitor and study the seafood industry in North Carolina, including studies of the feasibility of increasing the state's production, processing and marketing of seafood," and "To evaluate the feasibility of creating a central permitting office for fishing and aquaculture matters."



As soon as the merger proposal arose, Sen. Don East (R-Pilot Mountain) presented hand-written and typed amendments to committee members. They asked for the executive directors of the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission and N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries and the Commissioner of Agriculture to "consult with two commercial fishermen and two recreational fishermen in the development of this plan."



East earlier verbally proposed adding the N.C. Secretary of Agriculture to a 3-person group that would include the two agency directors to manage a combined agency. Rep. Tim Spear (D-Creswell) – who did not allow a version of H 353 out of committee in 2010 when Democrats controlled the legislature – argued the concept of two recreational fishermen and two commercial fishermen being tabbed as resources. He said he preferred the directors of the two agencies choose as many experts as needed.



Rep. Stan White (D-Nags Head) said the committee's Oct. 1 deadline to present bills to the legislature "was too fast to do it if we want input" from interested parties.




Rep. Ruth Samuelson (R-Charlotte) said the language of McCormick's committee presentation "sounded like a direction and not a study, and I don't understand how we can have a direction when we haven't identified where we want to go."



McCormick said: "This amendment (to delay and change the original proposal) is a deviation from everything this committee has done, and I don't think I can vote for the amendment."



The voice vote (with only 10 of 16 members present) approved that the committee should agree to have more study done about all of its proposals.



 McCormick cast the lone dissenting vote.