Cape Carteret town commissioners’ decision last week to endorse a statewide referendum on the use of gill nets in the state’s coastal waters indicates a willingness to relegate complex scientific issues to a political decision. This devalues the expertise of biologists and scientists in the state’s Division of Marine Fisheries who regularly make these decisions on behalf of all stakeholders, to help one special group – recreational fishermen.

In a 4-1 vote, Cape Carteret commissioners supported a motion by board member Steve Martin endorsing N.C. House Bill 513 that will relegate the decision on the use of gill nets to a statewide referendum in the November 2022 election. The bill, sponsored by N.C. Rep. Bill Richardson, D-Fayetteville would, if passed, prohibit the use of gill nets containing more than 500 square feet of mesh area in coastal waters and would restrict usage to “no more than two nets which shall not be connected be used from any vessel and no person on a vessel shall use more than one net in coastal fishing waters.” The bill does not restrict the use of cast nets utilized by recreational fisherman to catch live bait.

Commissioner Martin, describing himself as a longtime recreational fisherman, sought the board’s endorsement of the house bill on the basis that gill nets are an “indiscriminate killer” of fish that are important to recreational fishermen and to the local economy. “I’m not against netting per se,” he told the board. “I am against gill netting in internal waters. I’m not against commercial fishermen.”

Describing fish as “public resource,” Mr. Martin wants everyone in the state to have a say in how they are harvested. Commissioner Jim Nalitz naively voted to support Mr. Martin’s motion explaining that “it seems all we are doing is (endorsing) a referendum.”

Gill netting by commercial fishermen in state waters has been declining for years as have the number of fishermen who are plying the trade. In 2001, DMF sold 6,783 commercial licenses while in 2020 only 4,426 commercial fishing licenses were sold - a 35% decline in the industry. Keep in mind not all these licenses involved gill net permits.

According to Glenn Skinner, executive director of the N. C. Fisheries Association, “most finfish species landed in the internal and near ocean are caught with gill nets,” including flounder, spot, croaker, mackerel, bluefish, mullet and sea mullet. These are all fish that are economically important to the state’s fish dealers, who in turn sell the catch to local and state restaurants.

Mr. Martin’s opinion on the economic value of recreational fishing ignores the even bigger economic value and subsequent influence that commercial fishing has on both the county and the state. Tourists, a vast majority of whom do not fish, come to the county with the anticipation of enjoying fresh local seafood served at restaurants. The availability of a wide variety of locally wild-caught seafood and shellfish is part of the attraction to not only this area but to the state as well since many inland restaurants promote fresh, local seafood on their menus.

Both this local endorsement and the house bill itself further ignore both the cultural and economic value that the commercial fishing industry provides to the state. It is particularly egregious on the part of the Cape Carteret board considering that the commercial fishing industry is one of the major cultural and economic backbones of the county.

Commissioner Jeff Waters, in casting the only opposing vote, correctly noted that fewer gill nets are being used every year, adding that the few who still use them do so “to feed their families,” unlike recreational fishermen who are not dependent on their catch.

But Mr. Waters offered a far more compelling reason not to support the bill and that is most people who would vote in the referendum, “don’t even know what a gill net is and wouldn’t know what they’re voting on and so would just vote against gill nets.”

Defending Rep. Richardson’s bill, Commissioner Martin stressed that fish “are a public trust that belongs to all. Let everyone in the state have a say in this.”

Commissioner Nalitz and the other board members, Don Miller, Mike King and Mr. Martin are naïve to think this topic should be decided by a public referendum. Fish are free ranging, covering large geographical areas both within and outside of state waters and as a result their numbers are impacted by a wide range of variables such as climate, water quality and life cycles. Because of these complexities, the legislature established the Fisheries Reform Act of 1997 delegating the responsibility of in-state fisheries management to a commission made up of commercial and recreational fishermen, scientists, fisheries managers and conservationists who have the expertise to make decisions to include gear usage and schedule for targeting certain species.

As Mr. Skinner noted following the Cape Carteret town boards endorsement of H.B. 513, this decision was “driven by political science, not fisheries science.” The county and the state need to delegate this issue to the people who have the knowledge and not to political whims of a special interest group.

(10) comments

David Collins

Not everyone in the state really knows what a gill net is or how they are designed to work . To a lot of people a net is a net . Cast nets are totally different and allow the unwanted catch to be released unharmed by the user , immediately . The fish do not sit around and die in a untended net .

Discontinuing the use of gill nets in inland waters , which this bill does not and will not do, would lead to a generally healthier Eco-system overall . Not just benefit any particular user group . It is not a we vs them thing , not at all . Subsistence fishing should be considered separately and a work around hammered out . Subsistence fishing is about feeding YOUR FAMILY , not the neighborhood or community . Details and wording matter and should be clearly spelled out in plain English , not legal gobblygook with holes big enough to drive a boat through as usually the case .

Have nothing against commercial fishing , have done a bit of it and loved it . Sadly , the truth is that commercial fishermen , unlike farmers and the like , take from the seas and give nothing back . Just the nature of the beast .

kenwood

Interesting is it not, that when it comes to fishing with nets, the good editor favors the "people" and politicians to make policy, not the scientists and experts in the field. But when is comes to the policies regarding education and those on the covid virus epidemic ,the experts in those fields aren't to be trusted. Worse than that, those experts are but a part of some socialist / communist conspiracy.

live bottom

Fact: According to NOAA over 90% of seafood consumed in the US is imported. Chances of one sitting in a local restaurant and eating local caught fish is slim to none unless you consider Vietnam, China, India, Thailand, Indonesia or Canada to be local. The many agencies that are tasked with protecting our resource have failed. It's time for the owners of the resource to decide it's fate.

David Collins

Agenda , agenda , agenda . We all have them . Science is agenda driven as well as we are seeing every day . Always has been . No such thing as a human that does not have an agenda .

We can continue doing like we now do and eventually the fish stocks will collapse or we can be proactive , modify our behaviors to allow a rebuilding of stocks . Can not have it both ways . The Socialists and Communists can get along quite well anyway things go for they love seafood as well . I love inclusion .

drewski

Isn't this a non issue, unworthy of comment? Does anyone care if cape carteret endorses or does not endorses what will be state law?

Brackishwater

This is just more of the same old arguments in support of gill nets that have been regurgitated for decades. Just because someone claims that most local fish is caught by gill nets doesn't mean there is not a better way to harvest them. Pound nets, for example, are a much cleaner gear and could harvest all of the Southern flounder for public sale and consumption that the resource can bear.

"Access to fresh, local seafood" - you cannot feed the public appetite for seafood from local, wild-caught seafood. The majority already comes from imports or is farm-raised. Try asking the clerk behind the counter of your favorite local seafood market and you will get the same vague answer I do - "it came from Wanchese..."

"They are just trying to feed their families" - off of a resource that belongs to all of the public and with gear that is having a destructive impact on non-targeted species. So why should the public not get a say in how these public trust resources are managed?

David Collins

The grass roots brother . The grass at the beginning of those roots can grow . Today Cape Carteret , tomorrow the world .

Seacern

NC fisheries management has been a Political Science for over 40-years. Politics removed Bruce Freeman and Bill Hogarth as DMF directors because they were trying to management NC's public trust resources sustainably for the public. What the public got was two decades of a few powerful coastal legislators running fisheries management for the benefit of a handful of wealthy fish dealers. DMF "managed" our public trust resource right into a wax box with ice headed north to Baltimore, NJ and NY, while those few dealers became more wealthy and politically connected. DMF in return for over-capacity of commercial effort received funding. In returned, DMF passed grant monies to our university researchers to turn a blind-eye to the depletion of our marine species and degradation of our shell bottoms and SAV areas- text book Regulatory Capture. We need honest scientists and regulators. Those complaining about politics are only doing so because the worm is turning- NC citizens want our public trust resources back.

David Collins

Ok , guess that pidgen English is understandable but I think I get it .

Well connected ,New York Markets ,Cash in a bag and the like . You sold your self to the devil up north . Where very little good cones from . Enjoy !

the secret life of man

Maybe Brady can give a little insight to the local fish dealings 35 years ago.

Welcome to the discussion.

As a privately owned web site, we reserve the right to edit or remove comments that contain spam, advertising, vulgarity, threats of violence, racism, anti-Semitism, or personal/abusive/condescending attacks on other users or goading them. The same applies to trolling, the use of multiple aliases, or just generally being a jerk. Enforcement of this policy is at the sole discretion of the site administrators and repeat offenders may be blocked or permanently banned without warning.