The budget bill passed by the state legislature and signed into law by Gov. Pat McCrory on Thursday included a few victories for sportsmen and fishermen in confrontations between the N.C. House and N.C. Senate, both controlled by Republicans.
The bill did not wind up transferring control over farm-raised, penned deer and other cervids from the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission to the N.C. Department of Agriculture as was originally written into the Senate version. Because of worries about introducing deer into North Carolina from states where Chronic Wasting Disease has been present, many sportsmen did not want control of penned animals taken away from the Commission.
The House budget bill did not mention any transfer of penned-deer management, and the eventual comprise bill signed by McCrory left the Commission in control, but did take a few steps to provide assurance that CWD remains out of North Carolina.
Commercial-fishing supporters received one big defeat when an attempt to prevent the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries from entering into a joint enforcement agreement with the National Marine Fisheries Service was not included in the bill. The Senate, with an outpouring of support from the commercial-fishing industry – which is not interested in more enforcement than is currently in effect – had in its original bill a written prohibition of any move toward a JEA, which would bring the state approximately $600,000 a year from the federal government.
The House bill directed NCDMF to enter into a JEA with the feds, and the eventual budget bill signed by McCrory included the House directive. The money from the federal government will be earmarked for use by the cash-strapped NCDMF for Marine Patrol activities.
The commercial fishing industry got a split-decision on a second piece of the legislation. The Senate’s version of the original budget bill sought to double fees charged for commercial fishing licenses and dedicate the money collected from the increase to a Commercial Fishing Resource Fund to pay for observers required for the large-mesh gill-net fishery as required to protected endangered sea turtles. The fund would be controlled by a board comprised of one member each from six commercial fisherman’s organizations in North Carolina – five from the northern half of the coast.
The House version of the bill disagreed on how the money should be controlled and said all of the funds gathered from the increase should go to support the observer program, with any leftover used to establish a Fishing Resource Fund and an entity to administer it.
A comprise was reached between the Senate and House to allow the fee increase and dedicate all of the additional money collected to observer costs. Anything left over after the observer program is funded can be used for other projects to develop and support sustainable commercial fishing in North Carolina, but the use of those funds would be jointly prescribed by the N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission and a committee of representatives of six commercial-fishing organizations.
A concern still lingers that five of the commercial fishermen’s organizations that will provide members to the committee are from Morehead City and to the north. Will issues from the southern coast receive the appropriate due diligence when there aren’t enough funds to go around?
An odd provision included in budget negotiations was renaming the Shallow Draft Navigational Channel Fund to the Shallow Draft Navigational Channel and Lake Maintenance Fund. This fund was established in 2013 with a huge increase in fees from recreational vessel registrations to draft shallow coastal inlets. It was never directly addressed, but a significant backlash from inland vessel owners who never go to the coast over the use of money from their registrations was addressed by this legislature. Now, money from the fund can be used for lake dredging and aquatic weed control, as well as maintaining navigational channels and coastal inlets.
A complete history and final version of Senate Bill 744 / Session Law 2014-100 is available at the N.C. Legislative Website at www.ncleg.net.