RALEIGH — A bill is moving through the state General Assembly, introduced by House members who seek to protect juvenile fish in six species.
House Bill 483, titled “Let Them Spawn,” passed the House and is now before the Senate. The bill passed its third reading in the House June 20, and as of Tuesday it’s being reviewed by the Senate’s Committee on Rules and Operations. The bill’s stated purpose is to require a minimum size limit for certain species of marine fish to ensure 75% of the juvenile fish of these species will have an opportunity to reach maturity and spawn at least once.
The bill was filed March 27. Its primary sponsors are Reps. Larry Yarborough, R-Granville, Jason Saine, R-Lincoln, Michael Wray, D-Halifax, and Brian Turner, D-Buncombe.
According to H.B. 483’s language, if made law the bill will require the N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission to create minimum size limits for spot, Atlantic croaker, kingfishes, striped mullet, southern flounder and bluefish. The size limits will be based “on the best available biological and life history data for each species.”
“In the event data for a particular species is unavailable for North Carolina,” the bill reads, “the Commission shall utilize data from other Atlantic coast states until studies specific to North Carolina can be completed.”
The bill also says that if the DMF director determines a minimum size limit as required by the bill isn’t appropriate, the director will instead propose slot limits to protect adult spawning stock.
The measures will become effective as soon as the bill becomes law and would apply to fishery management plans developed prior to that date, as well as plans developed on or after it.
One commercial fishing advocacy group has voiced its opposition to the bill. N.C. Fisheries Association Executive Director Glenn Skinner, who’s also a commercial fisherman himself, said the association has opposed the bill since it was first introduced.
“We don’t believe a blanket approach to multiple species is the way to manage them,” Mr. Skinner said. “It would impact both commercial and recreational fishing. The restrictions would be harder on the recreational fishermen, since they catch smaller fish.”
As for the bill’s effects on the fish stocks, Mr. Skinner said it’s hard to say what the results would be. However, he said one potential outcome would be female fish grow larger, thereby becoming a bigger part of commercial landings, especially with flounder.
“Our big concern is you could shift the (commercial) harvest to all females,” Mr. Skinner said. “Until the (N.C.) Division of Marine Fisheries submits a breakdown, we don’t know how it could affect each stock.”
Meanwhile, one wildlife conservation group supports H.B. 483. The N.C. Wildlife Federation issued a press release June 26, calling the bill passing the house “a historic vote,” saying “this is the first time in decades that any marine fisheries policy has moved this far forward in the legislative process.”
“We applaud the House members who were able to wade through all the noise and see this resource bill for what it is: a remedy founded on the most science-based, culturally sensitive and economically resilient thinking every put before the state legislature,” NCWF CEO Tim Getswicki said. “Fostering reproduction is the most basic tenet of population biology, which is the entire premise of this bill.”
Contact Mike Shutak at 252-726-7081 ext. 206, email email@example.com; or follow on Twitter at @mikesccnt.