Carolina Sportsman

Legislative study committee created to reorganize saltwater management

Craig Holt - June 24, 2011
The discussion continues regarding Striped Bass receiving gamefish status
Craig Holt
The discussion continues regarding Striped Bass receiving gamefish status

As promised by game-fish bill sponsor Darrell McCormick (R-Iredell, Surry, Yadkin), HB 353 might not have survived the crossover deadline, but a major study of how saltwater resources are managed was the outcome of extreme opposition to the bill.

A Marine Fisheries Legislative Study Committee could name members and begin work during the next part of the first session of the 2011 General Assembly, set to begin July 13. However, because of the redistricting process, which is expected to consume most of the summer session, the committee could begin work during the May 2012 “short” session. In either case, its work is scheduled to end before the 2013 legislature convenes, leaving next year to conduct and complete the study.

HB 353 would have re-classified red drum, spotted seatrout and striped bass as gamefish, thus making them off limits to harvest and sale or bartering. In effect, netting of these fish to be sold for profit would have been banned.
However, the bill didn’t survive a June 9 deadline to “cross over” to the Senate for consideration, either because five Democrats made deals with the Republican majority for their budget approval votes or the Republican majority didn’t want to answer questions about a relatively small number of job losses in the commercial fishing industry should HB 353 become law.

In either case, McCormick and bi-partisan sponsors of HB 353 managed to morph the bill into an all-encompassing study of saltwater resources management.

One of HB 353’s sponsors told North Carolina Sportsman by opposing the game-fish status bill during this legislative session, commercial fishing interests “basically threw kindling on a smoldering fire.”

A quick look at the topics the committee will examine bears out that legislator’s words. Each section could be a nightmare for the state’s commercial fishing industry and the N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission.

The committee will study:

* The potential impact to the state’s fishery resources and economy of designating red drum, spotted sea trout and striped bass as gamefish.

* Changing the appointment process and qualifications for membership on the N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission.

* Creation of a hook-and-line commercial fishery.

* Elimination of the trawl-boat fishery in North Carolina.

* Entering into reciprocal agreements with other jurisdictions with regard to conservation of marine and estuarine resources.

* Regulating placement of nets and other sports or commercial fishing apparatus in coastal fisheries waters with regard to navigational and recreational safety as well as from a conservation standpoint.

* Entering into agreements regarding the delegation of law enforcement powers from the National Marine Fisheries Service over matters within the jurisdiction of the Service.

* Potential modification of the Fisheries Reform Act of 1997.     

* Whether Marine Fisheries should be a division of the Coastal Resources Commission or the Wildlife Resources Commission.    

* Other findings that promote the allocation of the state’s resources to the optimum use.   

What those sections mean, in effect, is that reds, specks and stripers still could be declared gamefish; the Marine Fisheries Commission could be reorganized to reflect the desires of all the state’s saltwater anglers instead of a few coastal counties that are the base of the commercial fishing industry; hook-and-lines instead of nets could be allowed for commercial catches of some species, most likely ocean-going striped bass; melding the N.C. Marine Patrol into the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission’s Enforcement Division; giving Marine Patrol officers authority to enforce federal fishing laws (out to 200 miles); the end of wasteful killing of ocean-going striped bass by trawl boats; changing Fishery Management Plans; and managing saltwater resources with a “best-use” approach rather than for the benefit of vested, commercial interests.

The study committee will be composed of four members of the Senate, appointed by the President Pro Tempore, and four members of the House of Representatives, appointed by the Speaker.

The committee will make a final report to the 2012 regular session of the General Assembly to include findings, recommendations and legislative proposals. It will disband after filing its final report or upon the convening of the 2013 regular session of the General Assembly, whichever occurs first.