The N.C. House will likely vote later this week for a state-budget bill that includes, among other things, language that would direct the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries to establish a “joint enforcement agreement” with the National Marine Fisheries Service that will provide the state $600,000 per year and allow officers with the N.C. Marine Patrol to enforce federal fishing regulations outside state waters.
The JEA clause is in at the request of the N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission, which voted in late May to advise the state legislature and Gov. Pat McCrory to take steps to put a JEA in place, and because House members decided to change that portion of the bill that the N.C. Senate had earlier passed.
The Senate bill not only didn't include the JEA, but it included a clause specifically prohibiting such an agreement, and the Senate passed that bill. The House, however, struck the language prohibiting the JEA from its version of the bill earlier this week and inserted a clause directing NCDMF to enter into agreement with NMFS.
A House appropriations sub-committee will vote to send the budget to the full committee, and a vote there will send the bill to the entire House.
“Then the budget bill will have to be voted on twice,” said Dick Hamilton of the N.C. Camo Coalition, which supports the JEA. “The House will vote to approve Thursday, then again after midnight Friday.”
From there, the House version will go to the Senate. Differences in the bill will be sent to a reconciliation committee with members of both bodies.
“(Ironing out differences) will probably take about a week,” Hamilton said. “Then there’ll be an up or down vote to send the budget bill to the governor.”
McCrory apparently favors the JEA, having included it in the original budget that he submitted to the legislature.
David Sneed, executive director of the Coastal Conservation Association of North Carolina, said his group was pleased with the House budget.
“I think (for CCA-NC) it came out pretty well,” he said. “I think things were favorable on the Marine Fisheries side, too. We’re certainly in favor of the JEA and the House language directed the Marine Fisheries Commission to pursue that.”
Hamilton said that Dr. Louis Daniel, executive director of the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries, and John Skvarla, secretary of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, “all want” the JEA and “will lobby hard to keep it in.”
Commercial fishing interests have never supported the JEA, lobbying the legislature to turn down a previous offer from USFWS, viewing the increased enforcement that would result from the agreement as holding far more negatives than positives. For the hook-and-line recreational fishermen, a ticket for violating a regulation means a likely fine. Commercial fishermen may be fined, lose their catch and have to pay replacement and court costs and lose time on the water.
The JEA clause was just one instance where Republicans, the majority party in the House, seemed to throw down the gauntlet against their Senate companions. They tightened up ethics requirements for members of the N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission, including requiring the disclosure of financial conflicts of interest related to state fisheries resources or memberships and affiliations in groups or organizations pertaining to the management or use of the state’s fisheries or wildlife resources. These disclosures also would be public records.
The House bill also mandates marine commissioners “shall not vote” on any issue that would affect their financial interests.
“(CCA-NC) certainly applauds the tightening of ethics and conflicts of interest language,” Steed said.