By BRAD RICH

Tideland News Writer

Commercial fishermen and their supporters are bracing for another attempt to get the state General Assembly to place striped bass, red drum and speckled trout off limits for commercial harvest and sale.

The “game fish” bill for the three species, which has failed to win legislative approval several times since 2009, hasn’t been introduced yet this session. But the North Carolina chapter of the Coastal Conservation Association, which has pushed the bill repeatedly, has left little doubt it’s going for it again, and sources say it might be introduced this week, possibly as early as today (Wednesday).

“Parker Poe, led by Bruce Thompson, and Brubaker & Associates, led by former House Speaker Harold Brubaker, are the registered lobbyists for CCANC this session,” a statement on the CCA website reads. “Their teams are already hard at work on our efforts to obtain game fish designation for red drum, spotted sea trout and striped bass.

“House Speaker Thom Tillis (Mecklenburg) has directed Representative Tom Murry (Wake) and Representative Tim Moffitt (Buncombe) to lead the game fish efforts in the North Carolina House. Through their leadership, we have been contacting both House and Senate members to gauge their support and enlist bill sponsors in both chambers.

“CCANC is encouraged by the support we are receiving, especially in the House. We recognize that the Senate will prove more challenging, as there are some Senators who have expressed support for the commercial industry on this issue. However, we are working with several members of that body to make sure that we will be ready to proceed.”

The message ended by urging CCA members to be ready “to walk the halls of the legislature with us as we make our push for game fish.”

The last version of the bill was House Bill 353, filed in 2011. It passed a first reading and was referred to Committee On Commerce and Job Development’s Subcommittee on Business and Labor. Eventually, it was withdrawn and re-referred to the full committee, where it languished.

But it was one of several issues the legislature kept alive for review last summer by the legislature’s Marine Fisheries Committee. A previous legislative panel, the Joint Legislative Study Commission on Seafood and Aquaculture, had included scientists and representatives of the commercial and recreational fishing industries, but the new panel, established last year, was comprised only of legislators.

That legislative fisheries committee, which had already met in February and March, in its final meeting in April meeting did not even discuss the legislation.

At the time, Sean McKeon, head of the N.C. Fisheries Association, the largest trade and lobbying group for commercial watermen, said he was pleased that the fisheries panel, chaired by Sen. Harry Brown, Republican-Jacksonville, and Rep. Dan McCormick, a Republican who represents Yadkin, Iredell and Surry counties, had not seen fit to give the game fish bill a push.

“I think we’ve dodged a bullet for now,” McKeon said then. “But I still wouldn’t be surprised to see the bill come up again in some form during the next session of the General Assembly.”

The CCA website indicates House Bill 353 is indeed still kicking, and provided a link to that old legislation, which in addition to making the species off limits to commercial fishermen, also provided $1 million to compensate at least some of them for lost income.

Brown, who is majority leader in the Senate, said Monday there has been no bill introduced in his chamber and so there has been no discussion “at this point.” He said he was unaware of the status of the bill on the House side.

McKeon said he had heard rumors that the bill was coming back, most likely in “stealth” fashion, attached to some other legislation, such as a bill that was introduced to increase boat license fees to help fund dredging of shallow-draft inlets.

“The CCA hired the former House speaker to lobby for them,” he said, referring to Brubaker, “and he doesn’t come cheap. They’re probably expecting more than just someone to put a new face on the organization. They want something done.

“Sadly,” added McKeon, “the Republican leadership will probably go along with this, if for no other reason than to just get it over with. They’re probably being told that, ‘Oh, the commercial fishing industry is dying anyway.’ We (commercial fishermen) have been losing friends in the General Assembly by attrition, and most of the leadership now just doesn’t seem interested in the truth about this legislation.

“We invite them to come down here and talk about it, to see what it would do, but they don’t come. This bill will probably pass in some form, if not this year, then next year, maybe in some ‘compromise’ form that won’t be a compromise. And it will be a sad day for North Carolina and for the Republican Party.

“I’m a lifelong Republican and proud of it,” McKeon continued. “But in my opinion, if they do this, the Republican Party will have become just what they said they Democrats had become: A group that is just doing what it pleases without regard to the law and to what it does to other people.

“There is no scientific justification for this legislation and there’s no biological reason and no economic reason. If this goes through – and again, I think it will – it will have been driven by a very small group of people not from this part of the state.

“They say it doesn’t matter economically to the commercial fishermen, but I don’t care if it’s just 1 percent or 2 percent of someone’s income, in these times, that matters,” McKeon added. “We have very few fish houses left and some of them are just barely hanging on. Every little bit hurts. And there’s no reason to do this, other just greed and avarice and, I guess, revenge.”

McKeon said the association, based in Pamlico County, would attempt to fight the bill in whatever form it might take, but conceded his group “does not have the resources or manpower that we used to have.”

Bill Hitchcock, a Morehead City resident, radio talk show host on WRHT, longtime supporter of commercial fishermen and opponent of the game fish bill, said Monday he is trying to galvanize opposition. He has started a Facebook page, “No to Game Fish Status,” and has been trying to alert watermen to the likelihood of the legislation resurfacing.

The CCA, he said, appears to be no longer pushing the bill as primarily a conservation measure, but as an economic one, emphasizing that the three fish are more important to the state as recreational fish for anglers than for commercial harvest.

According to the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries, commercial fishermen caught 91,951 pounds of red drum in 2011, while recreational anglers caught 212,245 pounds. For striped bass, those numbers are 410,685 pounds to commercial fishermen and 2.04 million pounds to recreational anglers. And, finally, the commercial watermen caught 73,119 pounds of speckled trout compared to the 403,160 caught by the recreational sector.

The fisheries division has opposed the bill in past incarnations, as inconsistent with the Fisheries Reform Act of 1997, which established committees, comprised of representatives of various user groups, that review fisheries issues and make recommendations to the policy-making N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission. Part of the very intent of the legislation, division director Dr. Louis Daniel has said, was to get the legislature out of fisheries management, which had become increasingly controversial.

The idea, Daniel said last year, was to try as much as possible to remove politics from the equation, to rely upon science and upon the division staff and the committees to make recommendations to the commission.

Hitchcock said he and others who oppose the bill were not surprised it appears to be returning for more debate.

“We knew this (legislation) would come back at some point,” he said. “These people (the CCA) are not going to stop until they accomplish their goal, which is to get (commercial) gill nets and trawls out of the water.

“They’ve been trying in one fashion or another to do that since the 1990s. Since they haven’t been able to ban the nets, now they’re trying to ban the fish the nets catch.”

State Rep. Pat McElraft, Republican-Emerald Isle, did not return a phone call from the newspaper, nor did state Sen. Norm Sanderson, Republican-New Bern.

(17) comments

dc

If the numbers stated of pounds of each caught what is the problem with commercial fishermen catching these fish? Do the anglers just fish for personal pleasure and consumption?

ClammerFool

Good job, brad.

May i ask why you don't cover both sides of the story? Why don't you discuss what other states have done? You know, the fact that every single state other than NC and Mississippi (how proud we must be!!!) has gamefish for red drum! Trout or striped bass? Or has a gill net ban?

Why I only use one year of landings data? Because using others shows your numbers regarding the disparity in harvest are not accurate and much mor evenly split?

What about the economic numbers?

What about interviewing the president of CCA? Other groups?

No, that weakens your argument and you can't have that. For those of use who are friends with you on Facebook we are well aware of your blind and ridiculous bias towards commercial fishing interests? Bias without logic or reason - just blind uneducated ideology.

Good job! More horrible yellow journalism from this sorry excuse for a journalistic endeavor.

Brad Rich - if you want to sound like a biased ideologue just write one of your editorials please don't subject us to such poor writing. You are a sorry excuse for a journalist and I do pray you don't call yourself that.

Core Sounder

Was reading Clammerfools comment and would like for him/her to give us the name of 3 States from Virginia to Texas that do not allow gill nets in their State waters. I admit that Texas and Florida does not so give us the name of another. I know that our neighboring State, Virginia, allows gill nets and also allows the sale of all 3 species. South Carolina has areas where gill nets are allowed but am not sure what they have listed as gamefish. Anyways as Brad said in his article, This is not so much about making these species gamefish as it is to destroy commercial fishing in NC. The CCA of NC has spent many dollars and since they have the deep pockets may very well win out in the end. Pity that the primary folk that will suffer will be the commercial fishermen along our coast as well as those that can not go catch their own specks, reds or striped bass. Guess the poor consumer that cant catch their own will have to be content with the foreign imports that was raised in nothing more than cess pools.

David Collins

Just a typical Brad article. Not worth commenting on. Anita would be proud.

Harkers Island Tailfisher

Wow, just have no idea where to start.

Just so many inaccuracies and half truths it is like those games where you hit one mole and another pops up.

Wonder if bias ever comes up over at The Tideland News???

From the NCDMF (based on 2010 data):

The Output Impacts (total economic return to the state) for the commercial fishing for striped bass, red drum, and spotted seatrout is approximately 3.2 MILLION.

The Output Impacts (total economic return to the state) for the recreational fishing for striped bass, red drum, and spotted seatrout is approximately 93 MILLION.

The 3 fish listed above make up less than 2% of the total commercial landings in North Carolina and less than 2% of the finfish landings (since we don't have many striped bass/rockfish in Carteret County, red rum and spotted seatrout make up .90% of finfish landings statewide) .

3.2 MILLION < 93 MILLION.

If this is a lie or something the NCDMF made up to put commercial fishermen out of business we should all gather together over on Arendell St. in Morehead and demand that the folks that put together this data be fired!!! [wink]

If it is true, which it is, the state of North Carolina has finally had enough of being hoodwinked by Basnight's favorite bunch of folks, commercial fishermen, and we as a state can finally end the tax payer subsidies and the overweighting of commercial fishing jobs at the expense of all others.

See you next week Brad!

Take care

Harkers Island Tailfisher

Correction:

Striped Bass, spotted seatrout and red drum make up slightly less than 3% of commercial finfish landings, not 2% as in my prior post.

My apology.

Take care

Core Sounder

agree that the 3 species are more important to the State of NC in terms of money generated from rec fishermen. Since these fish are mainly caught by commercials in the form of bycatch while targeting other species should this bycatch be thrown back dead which is a total waste in my opinion. Is there any evidence to prove that making these species gamefish will significantly improve the population since the Data show that almost 80% of these species are killed by rec fishermen? Most of us already know that speck and striper numbers are mostly dependent on the winter weather conditions. For example, Colder than normal winters have an adverse effect on specks while that same condition drives ocean stripers down our way. Don't believe that gamefish will do much to change that.

ClammerFool

CoreSounder -

Y'all sure can spin the truth to suit your argument. For the record - I will take the regulations of any other southern state, hands down, over NCs. Take it or leave it right now.

VA - yes, they do not have red drum as gamefish (or trout) but their commercial catches pale in comparison to NC. Their drum catch is extremely sporadic and even with allowances for all commercial gear, they catch less than 8,000lbs/year. Almsot an irrelevant fishery. Furthermore their estuary is very different than ours and they have no flounder gill net fishery.

SC - gamefish for, get read, REd Drum, Trout, Flounder, Striped Bass AND Cobia. Gill nets? They have a TINY small mesh fishery that requires attendance and is only allowed in very small areas near the inlet (think a sq mile).

GA - gill net ban other than a short 2 week shad drift net fishery. Red Drum as gamefish.

FL - no gill nets (banned). No commercial sale of red drum, striped bass. 20,000lb (yes, twenty thousand) lb quota for trout in the mullet cast net fishery.

AL - gill net ban. Gamefish for red drum, trout.

MS - they allow non-monofilament gill nets, have strict attendance requirements, and netting is only allowed between 1.5miles offshore and 3miles offshore (end of state waters). They have a 30,000lb quota on red drum, smaller on trout and flounder.

LA - gill net ban. Gamefish for red drum, hook and line only commercial fishery for speckled trout which requires a special license that are strictly capped.

TX - gill net ban. Red drum and speckled trout gamefish.

The only state that has any comparison to NC is Mississippi and their regulations make them look like California compared to us. I'll take their regulations any dang day.

John

My question it this why is the commercial fishermen fighting this so hard if they are less than 3% of there landings?? It is making me think they are landing way more than 3% and not reporting it.(Selling it under the table) I may be wrong but why else would you push so hard for something you dont use!

John

You know i think we would have a way better fisheries if they do get gill nets and trawls out of our water.

SEABASS

I for one hope it is passed. I have seen the damage of gill nets and trawls in our water, And it has to stop.

clammerhead

More of the same tripe...

Clammerhead

John

Clammerhead You are right that is just how i see commercial fishermen Tripe!!!

clammerhead

If you don't talk to them they quit yapping, but as soon as you say something, they start again...........

Clammerhead

John

4/19/2013 'gamefish bill' is introduced in N.C. state legislature. It looks good this year for this bill.

Morehead resident

Please find the true facts re. HB 983 and see how the newspaper has resorted to less than the truth to try and influence your opinion re. Gamefish ....the bill is beneficial to all nc citizens ....don't be duped by what these biased stories in your local paper print...find out for yourself why this bill should be passed and made law.......if you know the truth, you can form a real opinion..one way or the other..

straighttalk

Maybe a good bill or maybe bad. The media does not give us ample data in order to analyze the pros and cons. What is sad is that our politicians resort to entrapment and blackmail to get a bill introduced. Even more sad is the lack of what our district representatives are voicing on this matter?

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