CAPE CARTERET — Cape Carteret commissioners Monday night endorsed state legislation that would set up a statewide referendum on whether to ban the use of gill nets and other “entangling” nets in coastal waters.
The action to endorse House Bill 513 came during the panel’s regular meeting in town hall and virtually via GoToMeeting and was proposed by Commissioner Steve Martin. It passed by a 4-1 vote, with Commissioner Jeff Wateropposed.
Mr. Martin said he is an avid, longtime fisherman in the waters in and around the town and elsewhere and views gill nets as “an indiscriminate killer” of fish that are important to recreational fishermen and to the local economy.
Mr. Martin also said he believes commercial watermen should favor the legislation because it will give all state voters the opportunity to decide on language to help ensure enough fish spawn to maintain healthy populations.
The bill was introduced in the state House by Rep. Bill Richardson, a Democrat from Fayetteville.
“I’ve fished these waters for 50 years. I’m not against netting per se,” Mr. Martin said during the meeting. “I am against gill netting in internal waters. I’m not against commercial fishermen.”
He added, however, fish “are a public resource that belongs to all, not just … commercial fishermen. Let everyone in the state have a say in this.”
Commissioner Jim Nalitz said he voted for the town’s resolution “because it seems all we are doing is (endorsing) a referendum.”
Mr. Waters said as a lifelong Cape Carteret resident, he was raised on the water and believes it’s the job of the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries to make those decisions.
In an interview Wednesday, he said fewer and fewer people use gill nets every year, but the few that still use them do so “to feed their families,” either directly or by selling the fish they catch to earn their livings.
In addition, he said most people who would vote in a referendum “don’t even know what a gill net is and wouldn’t know what they’re voting on, so they’d just vote against gill nets.”
Specifically, the legislation states if the referendum passes, it will become illegal to use either a gill net or other entangling nets in coastal fishing waters for the purpose of catching or taking any saltwater finfish, shellfish or other marine animals.
In addition, it states, “no other type of net containing more than 500 square feet of mesh area shall be used in coastal fishing waters” and “no more than two nets which shall not be connected shall be used from any vessel, and no person not on a vessel shall use more than one net in coastal fishing waters.”
If passed, the referendum would not include a ban on the use of hand-thrown cast nets.
Rep. Richardson’s bill proposes the referendum be held in November 2022.
The bill missed the deadline to cross over from the House of Representatives to the state Senate, but its introduction has caused alarm among some commercial fishing officials.
N.C. Fisheries Association Executive Director and commercial fisherman Glenn Skinner has voiced opposition to the proposed referendum and net restrictions.
“We (the NCFA) don’t think the bill is going anywhere,” Mr. Skinner previously told the News-Times. “Our biggest concern is you have any representatives in Raleigh willing to sign their name to a bill with no scientific evidence to back it up.”
However, Coastal Conservation Association North Carolina Executive Director David Sneed said in a May 28 statement on the association’s news blog the organization “wholeheartedly supports the idea of a net referendum bill.”
“It’s driven by political science, not fisheries science,” Mr. Skinner rebutted. “My initial response (to concerns about overfishing) is to look at the other states that have implemented these bans. It hasn’t ended overfishing. You talk to the fisheries managers in these states, and they say it hasn’t prevented it.”
Mr. Skinner said he hopes voters “would have enough sense not to hurt food productivity.”
Reporter Mike Shutak contributed to this article.
Contact Brad Rich at 252-864-1532; email firstname.lastname@example.org; or follow on Twitter @brichccnt.