Conservation group files civil suit against state over fisheries management

A trawler cruises through the waters near Pivers Island in this file photo. A nonprofit group has filed a civil suit against the state of North Carolina over fisheries management. (Mike Shutak photo)

RALEIGH — State officials are being taken to civil court again by another recreational fishing group.

The Coastal Conservation Association of North Carolina, the local chapter of an interstate recreational fishing and conservation nonprofit that advocates “sound management of public trust marine and estuarine resources,” filed a civil complaint Nov. 10 in Wake County Superior Court against the state of North Carolina.

According to a press release from CCA-NC, the suit is based on state officials’ “long-standing, public trust responsibilities to manage coastal fish stocks in a way that protects the public trust rights of the public, as incorporated in the North Carolina constitution, to fish in North Carolina’s coastal waters.” These include the coastal waters of Carteret County.

“The state has failed to meet that legal duty,” CCA-NC said, “instead allowing for-profit exploitation of coastal fisheries resources by fewer than 7,000 citizens to supplant the public rights of 11 million citizens to use coastal fisheries resources.”

The filing comes shortly after a different recreational fishing group, the N.C. Coastal Fisheries Reform Group, voluntarily dismissed Nov. 6 its claim against the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries in a civil suit filed with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina.

The reform group previously alleged the DMF was violating the federal Clean Water Act in its management of shrimp trawling. While the claim against the division was dismissed, the group maintained its claim against several trawling companies also named in the suit.

CCA-NC, meanwhile, alleges in its own civil suit state officials have mismanaged coastal fisheries resources, leading to the “demise of several specific fish stocks historically significant to the fishing public.”

“Stocks in multiple fish species like river herring, Southern flounder, striped bass, spot, croaker and weakfish have declined precipitously since the late 1980’s, with little to no will or effort by the state to implement the measures necessary to recover those stocks,” CCA-NC said.

The N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission is responsible for creating regulations for commercial and recreational fishing in the state’s marine and estuarine waters. The DMF, meanwhile, enforces these regulations, as well as gathers data for the MFC to use in its rulemaking.

Despite being the two bodies directly responsible for managing the marine and estuarine fisheries, N.C. Department of Justice Communications Director Laura Brewer said in an email Tuesday to the News-Times the MFC wasn’t named as a party to the suit and has no involvement in the matter.

“Our office is reviewing the documents,” she said.

The News-Times also contacted the DMF for comment, but Communications Director Patricia Smith said, as of Tuesday, the division has no comment. 

CCA-NC further alleges the decline of these stocks is due to three particular “management failures” by the state: facilitating certain commercial fishing practices that cause resource waste, allowing overfishing of multiple fish stocks and disregarding a lack of harvest reports from “over half of all state commercial fishing license holders.”

CCA-NC said its asking the court to declare the state has breached its legal obligations “to properly manage coastal fisheries resources.” It also seeks to have a permanent injunction “to stop the state from committing further breaches of these obligations.”

“In short, the complaint seeks to hold the state accountable for failing to manage our coastal fisheries resources for the benefit of all North Carolinians,” CCA-NC said.


Contact Mike Shutak at 252-723-7353, email; or follow on Twitter at @mikesccnt.

(4) comments

David Collins

Lack of harvest reports indicates no commercial fishing by the license holders . Time to rescind those licenses because obviously they are not being used for fishing commercially . That would reduce some of the pressure on the resources . Would it not ?


Not really, If they are not fishing then they are putting little to no pressure on the resources. Just like if you don't drive you don't use gas!!

David Collins

No , my friend , not the way the game is played . These rec/commercial guys play both sides of the coin . When it suits them .

By holding a commercial license , one can use commercial gear to catch fish . In rather large quantities and can retain commercial quantities of fish when the recreational season is closed and or when recreational bag limits are reduced . They can also sell their catch through the back door to unscrupulous dealers or the public using a sellers license , without fear of the law . Have seen this many times in a prior life . When buying gear and fuel or whatever they use this license to avoid paying taxes charged to the recreational fishermen as well . May not sound like much but it does add up over time . In my day this ploy was used by “ base shift workers “ as a way to have fun and make a tidy profit at the same time . Way past time to retire these “ under utilized licenses “ and get serious about just who a commercial fisherman really is or just say the heck with it all and let the Wild West Show begin anew till it is all gone .

Don’t believe me just ask a fish cop , one that been around a few years .


Interesting stuff, David. Thanks for sharing.

Welcome to the discussion.

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