Harkers Island, N.C.

April 29, 2013


My name is Alison Tomlinson Willis. I am originally from Raleigh. I now live in Harkers Island, but until a few years ago, my family owned and operated Mayview Convalescent Center for over 50 years in Raleigh. Thus, I was not born into a commercial fishing family. I choose to join one. I have been welcomed into a unique way of life, filled with a dominating sense of community and filled with heritage and a love for the water. My husband, Eddie Willis, is a fourth generation commercial fisherman.

We own and operate Mr. Big Seafood on Harkers Island, as well as Core Sound Seafood. Core Sound Seafood is a community supported fishery program that delivers seafood to inland consumers in Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Boone.

North Carolina fishermen and seafood consumers are currently being faced with an uphill political challenge threatening the supply of three commercially caught species. N.C. House Bill 983 (HB-983) is currently being “pushed” by the Coastal Conservation Association (CCA) and reviewed by the House Committee on Commerce and Job Development.

Part 1 of this bill is an attempt to diminish our food sovereignty in North Carolina by prohibiting commercial fishermen from catching red drum, speckled trout and striped bass. If passed, it will deprive the majority of North Carolinians access to red drum, speckled trout and striped bass as they could no longer be commercially landed and sold in this state. It would allocate 100% of these natural resources to one single user group – recreational fishermen. HB-983 would needlessly remove the species from our local foods systems.

It is important to note that game fish status is not needed to sustain or maintain healthy stocks of red drum, speckled trout and striped bass. The N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries (NCDMF) is effectively managing these fisheries. There are strict “limits” imposed on commercial and recreational fishermen. In fact, NCDMF has publicly opposed HB-983, citing “the greatest issue is that we believe the action is contrary to the N.C. Fisheries Reform Act, our state’s guiding legislation for managing North Carolina’s coastal fisheries.” The CCA has proposed several similar bills in the past. The most recent was 2011, but all failed to pass. This time they have coupled the legislation with tempting and much needed “dredging” funds for North Carolina waterways. It’s an attempt to make the legislation more desirable to a majority of representatives.

The N.C. Fishery Reform Act clearly states that the NCDMF and the N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission (NCMFC) are to manage fish stocks equally for commercial and recreational users groups. If this bill passes that essentially means that you’ll never be able to eat those fish from North Carolina waters again, unless you have the means to catch them yourself.

Today we can harvest our limit and provide consumers with the best product on the East Coast. If game fish status is enacted, however, every trout, drum, or bass that finds its way into a fishermen’s net will have to be tossed back, dead or alive, becoming “regulatory discards” rather than a choice and tasty food product.   

HB-983 would deny North Carolinians access to fresh, local seafood. It would remove these important species from our local food systems! Mr. Big Seafood, Core Sound Seafood, seafood wholesalers, other seafood retailers, specialty markets and restaurants could never again provide red drum, speckled trout or striped bass to their customers.

North Carolina’s recreational fishermen compose a small percentage of North Carolina’s population. According to the 2010 data, North Carolina had a population of 9,535,483. According to the North Carolina License and Statistics Section Summary Statistics of License and permit Program Nov. 7, 2012, there were a total of (instate/out-of- state) 439,251 North Carolina marine recreational angler participants. (Page III-16). N.C. resident participation in saltwater recreational fishing was 289,930, which is 3% of the state’s general population. Out-of-state participation was 149,321 (1.5%). This brings total participation both in state and out-of-state to less than 5% of the total N.C. population. Thus, the number of consumers greatly outnumbers those with recreational licenses.

I believe these species should be available for both recreational and commercial fishermen alike! I beseech your readers to support equal access to fresh North Carolina seafood!

Thank you for the opportunity to share this important issue with you.


(22) comments


You know what the funny part of this is to me. For over 80 year the commercial fishermen payed lobbyist, and senators, and legislatures, Millions of dallors to get what they wanted. And Now that the rec fishermen are doing the same thing's they did they are greedy, selfish, cold harted monsters, And now Racist. For doing the same thing's they have done for years! Now thats hypocritical. Or The pot calling the kettle black. Witchever you prefer !
All these people cant get these fish now!! Go west of new bern and find a resturant with striper, or reds, and specs on there menue!! You want find 5 from new bern to the tennessee line. All these fish ARE SHIPED TO OTHER STATES. Not kept in our state. I for one am glad for this bill i am tried of seeing our fisheries bing depleted for other states to eat!


I've never seen red drum, spotted sea trout or striped bass on any menu at our local restaurants. Any trout served at a local eatery will be "gray trout". Red drum are not allowed to be commercially targeted. Any red drum sold commercially "should be" BYCATCH ONLY?? - The editorial is just loaded with untruths! If this bill passes it will create revenue and is basically a job creator. These 3 species are primarily recreationally targeted fish and an increase in their populations would substatially increase revenue. Call or email your rep and demand that they support HB-983!


5% go fishing. What % of the state population actually eat trout, drum & bass?
Probably 5% or less.

The real debate is Commercial Vs Recreational.
Recreational vs Commercial.

These species are only By Catch for commercial fisherman. Unfortunate to get caught in a net, and collected "dead or alive".
Same goes with the recreational fisherman, hook an undersize/oversize and throw it back, dead or alive.

A fair settlement is ban them for all and then nobody gets thier way. But at least all the bickering will end, for now.


sorry i had to say this then im through. IF this passes - commercial fishing is done?That is clearly false - this bill has nothing to do with blue crabs, shrip, flounder and offshore species which are the primary commercial fisheries in this state. Thes 3 fish account for less than 2.5% of total landings.I fail to see this argument - per DMF trip tickets, only 87 commercial fishermen sold mroe than $1000 of any of those 3 species combined.Striped Bass and Red Drum are bycatch species - not allowed to be targeted.Our local restaurants DO NOT SERVE THESE THREE FISH!!! Unlike what the extremely biased person is trying to make you believe, as someone who works in the local food service business, these 3 fish may be found in 1 or 2 restaurants on a special 1 or 2 nights a year. THAT IS A FACT.The majority of these fish are shipped out of town to other states - states which get to benefit from a healthier tourism economy due to better fishing and then eat our fish. This is not fair to the residents of the state of north carolina.If this gamefish bill is the end of commercial fishing its because the majority of NC commercial fishermen who catch these fish are Not reporting them on their trip tickets and thus are NOT PAYING THEIR TAXES.If that's the case - you just made an argument to make these three fish gamefish. Like it or not![ban]


Good argument with supporting data and info.


I would like to offer another view to the biased and pitifully inaccurate article above.There are 10 million people in NC.So if we divide the commercial catch of each of the species in question how much fish is this for each citizen per year?NOT EVEN A TENTH OF A POUND OF DRESSED FISH IN QUESTION. FOR SPECS IT IS ONE HUNDREDTH OF A POUND. TALK ABOUT "FEEDING THE MASSES"As for ACCESS to the fish. Everyone has the SAME EQUAL access under gamefish. You buy a fishing license. It has been repeatedly adjudicated that consumers do not have a right to wildlife at Food Lion etc. Don't kill the messenger, just pointing it out. As stated above, very few fishermen will have their incomes significantly impacted. However, there will be a few, a very few, that will be impacted in a significant manner. For these the recreational sector should make some kind of fair economic mitigation to these fishermen, based on their trip ticket data from recent years. This is the right thing to do.


At the rate we are going, In 10 years, They will have to put Sothern Flounder, Gray and Spotted seatrout and Black seaBass, under the Endangered Species Act.


I have only two questions. First, According to the NCDMF, ONLY 87 COMMERCIAL FISHERMEN MADE OVER $2'000 SELLING ANY ONE OF THESE THREE SPECIES OR COMBINED. So how is there going to be any job loss? Second are all these jobs running off of the $2'000? In 2009 only 188 commercial fishermen in NC caught and sold red drum, speckled trout, or striped bass. And that number is statewide...not just in Carteret County. This is if the socalled trip ticket system is still working! Witch i personaly think is not. But that is another issue.


This is a artical from the N.C.Sportsman. And i think it is a great one i had to share it....... One of the results of a depressed economy is people often find ways that aren’t legal to supplement their incomes — to the detriment of public resources such as fisheries or wildlife.

That apparently happened this winter in several coastal North Carolina communities. Enforcement officers with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission and N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries’ Marine Patrol, along with sheriff’s deputies, apprehended a string of law-breakers netting fish illegally.

The odd part of the situation is that fish caught illegally can be sold legally to fish dealers. There’s no method in place — nor apparently much interest in asking the question — to discover where netted fish originated.

Winter netters mainly target spotted seatrout because it’s easy and profitable. During cold months, these fish congregate in shallow coastal creeks, seeking warmth. The sun heats the shallow water more quickly and attracts baitfish and trout.

That means specks assemble in places where they’re easily netted, and the temptation to make easy money in off-limits creeks apparently is too much for some people to overcome.

• Last Nov. 26, in Carteret County, two men totally blocked Hancock Creek by placing 450 yards of fine-mesh gill net from bank to bank. They landed 178 pounds of fish, including 89 trout, some that weighed as much as 6 pounds before officers arrested them.

• Last Dec. 6, in Pantego Creek near Belhaven, a man was caught with 264 striped mullet, 96 gizzard shad, nine black fish and 12 white perch he’d netted using 500 yards of fine-mesh gill nets.

• Last Dec. 8, a husband and wife from Cape Carteret had just set out 90 yards of gill net in Pettiford Creek when they were caught.

It’s been illegal for years to set gill nets in waters that North Carolina labels "joint" — part coastal, part inland. Yet these people — each of whom possessed a commercial fishing license — took the chance. Why? Because they could sell the fish legally. Commercial fish buyers aren’t required to ask where fish they purchase were caught or if they were taken by legal means. They only fill out "trip tickets" to indicate how many fish of a certain species and weight they bought from a netter.

Why should it matter where and how a fish was caught? The answer is clear: coastal fish are a public resource, owned by every citizen.

The state allows netters to capture and sell some species, but restrictions on when and where commercial fishermen can net protect the entire resource. If illegal netting is unchecked and winter freezes kill thousands of specks (as happened in 2010 and 2011), then the stock is at risk.

It’s also not difficult to understand that gamefish status would solve this problem for speckled trout or any other species.
Like i said a great letter, Thanks N.C.Sportsman.


I see that RACISM is still alive....



Osprey has a fair solution. Would alternating time periods work or would it devastate both?


One issue is how is the bycatch handled, what becomes of it, and where does it go. I completely agree it is a sad waste to dump any of these fish if they could be utilized by someone from NC... WITHOUT PROFIT. The other issue is how to determine the impact from the other rec side of the coin (no pun intended, but it does apply) If Mrs. Willis is being 100% in that all bycatch of these species are going to inland NC folks in a legal and fair manner, then any proof would answer many of my questions. Report all landings in my opinion... both sides. We have this thing called the internet, and there is also a concept called honesty... as a computer guy it would seem we could easily develop a system to track the resource we all care so much about... but as they say garbage in-garbage out. No reporting system will provide any data other than the input... and that completely applies to BOTH sides!
Which raises the incentive question I have. If these fish are such a small percentage of the commercial equation, why the heck are those who disagree with the comm position being called racist? As a rec guy, I would be completely fine with all net bycatch being donated to food charities that the commercial side are saying would be deprived of the resource. You have to remove them from the nets anyway, and we all want the resource to stay in NC, just don't ship them out of state. I would hope that there would be a method or area that reduced bycatch while still allowing the industry to be sustainable. Maybe even some subsidy to cover transport costs. But as soon as the profit door opens there is incentive for abuse... from both sides. However, the numbers are hard to dispute that the better use of the resource leans heavily towards the rec side, unless there is new proof that these fish are actually staying in NC, and even that is questionable considering the tiny percentage of the population involved. Not being shipped to the states who felt the resource was far better for the economy as gamefish status is a primary concern. Otherwise, NC becomes the wild west to deplete our resource for the benefit of a miniscule percentage of the population, and allowing the states around us to have their cake and eat it too.

Just Saying

Why do you think these fish are sent to other states? Might it be because those states mistakenly fell for the CCA's trickery and passed such bills to where they can no longer provide these fish for those looking to add healthy fish to their their diet. The CCA is so stuck on their data that they have failed to look at the data of states they have effected already. Now more Imports from other countries than ever, with less oversight on the quality of food they provide.

Great...lets find another way to support other countries while we defame and degrade our own people here at home, who are trying to make a living and give back to our communities.

Why don't we just become communist? Cause that's what this bill sounds like. Only allow the elite and rich to have it all! Just saying.

And yes, let's believe the NC Sportsman publication whose readers are recreational fisherman and sponsors of the CCA.




Gridlock has a good idea - hate seeing by-catch go to waste. BUT that would require extra work of the comm guys with no money at the end. Ones I know just assume throw em overboard rather than waste their time with no benefit to them; cant blame em, gotta make a livin first,.
I was a comm guy growing up here in CCounty and made alot of money working on the water, but never on these three - we went after specks in the winter when things were slow and needed gas money, but drum?? never, stripers?? gotta be kidding - HATED to see a drum get in the net and still know of NO one that targets a striper on purpose.
I will say also I have never once seen a striper or drum in the fish boxes of any fish market around here; the argument of the poor old individual being able to buy these is bunk. Cant buy them anyway cause they ain't sold here (some specks are that is it).
I cannot see what the fuss is over this bill - with friends in the comm industry still they are laughing at what they read here from both sides. If it will do the waters good and I think that it will then I hope to see it passed. Do I believe the nets are "killing" the waters? No - do I think the waters will flourish even better without the nets - YES kinda a no brainer -


J, that's why I mentioned the compensation part... but how is that done without things turning into full blown fishery? Likewise, just hate seeing a resource going to waste. Personally don't see a bipartisan solution in the near future as most are trenched in. But will always try to understand both sides of the equation.

Just Saying - thanks for confirming my question about where the fish are going since the commercial position has always been that they are providing them to the folks of NC. I'd be willing to bet there are many who are doing right for the NC folks... otherwise, that argument just lost its wings. Never said Mrs. Willis wasn't doing exactly what she says they are... and I'm fine with that... just keep the resource in NC. But I think it's safe to say you're in this for your profit regardless of the NC community?

PP - Pretty sure if you put that to a "local" vote, you may be the one voted "off the island". They say ignorance must be bliss... drime, pull out Piney, not helping your cause with that approach.

But as J pointed out, these fish are more of a nuisance to the commercial fishery, while they are prized by the rec community... AND do more to our economy as gamefish. IF the regs were completely eliminated, I am very sure they would be no more. But you guys gotta get off this racist, communist, elitist rant because there are far more like me who truly want to see this area thrive and greatly appreciate being able to wade for a nice dinner every now and then. Respect the resource, the people, and don't make NC the gamefish prostitute.


Gridlock on bycatch. In my opinion the 12 inch size length required on some fish is too long it needs to be reduced. I do not like 12 inch flounder and jumping mullet and other weakfish that come through our waters. This is a regulation by DMF coming from some recreational fishermen, CCA wanting trophy fish of 500 pounds. I prefer 6-10 inch fish because that is size I grew up eating. By reducing the length size there would be less bycatch. I eat bycatch fish because I do not like these larger lengths. Bycatch is used as bait, but with the longer 12 inch length in my opinion more fish are having to be tossed out. This is not a regulation the commercial fishermen wanted and voiced strongly against. DMF Commission members needed to listen to the Commercial Fishermen and their knowledge about fish and their life cycles. But many times Commission members appointed had no interest in supporting the commercial fishing industry and their interest. US Commercial Fishermen are only allowed to provide 10% of the fish and seafood to US consumers. In 1980's Commercial Fishermen provided 70-80% of US fish and seafood. In states where the CCA, Pew foundation and environmental groups promoted false information and data with no knowledge of fishing have removed Commercial Fishermen in Florida and Texas, the rate of fraud and mislabeled seafood is the highest 70-80% in US. US folks are left to eat imported seafood which is trash. Oceana Study Reveals Seafood Fraud Nationwide February 2013 and FDA data on fraud seafood. Check the National Fisherman for fraud seafood fish and cases being prosecuted in court. There has to be better way and changes. South Carolina has legislation to label local seafood from South Carolina, North Carolina, and Georgia. It is only for the South Carolina state. Our state needs this labeling for marketing real local seafood. Please sign the petition on Facebook Karen Amspecker or Myron Smith to keep fish on the plate. Most recreational fishermen that I talk to want Commercial Fishermen to catch as many fish as possible so they will be available for them when they are not at the coast. They go to the Seafood Markets and buy seafood in their hometown or the restaurants. With the safety concerns on the sounds and ocean, Commercial Fishermen and Recreational Fishermen need to get along.


Alison Tomlinson Willis the article is great, major authority and regulations provided. Great!

Morehead resident

Be honest with yourself, when is the last time you saw any of these three species for sale in a restaurant ? If you saw a trout, it came from South America, if you saw a striper, it was raised in a pond.If you saw a puppy drum you were either drunk or hallucinating. to say this bill would deprive NC consumers of these fish is pure bunk. You know it whether you will admit it or not.


Y'all really should quit being RACIST.......



Boy this is to funny!! Clammerhead yelling racist But he may be right! I dont see many commercial fishermen that are black or hispinic! And come to think about it i havent seen that many fish houses that are owned by them eather! You might have a point there clammy!! Morehead resident You hit the nail on the head. These fish are not sold around here you will have a hard time finding them around here at local fish houses. And the comm fishermen know this. Now you can get all the local oysters,shrimp, crabs, spots and flounder you want, But you will be verry lucky to find these three in carteret county!!


Thanks Myron for an honest counter to what I tossed out. There is enough spin to make us all dizzy without the useless drivel like "racist". Pretty work CH... but please keep up the great work on the crab pot/oyster rehab program. Seriously!
As to the proper harvest size, I lean toward having it based on enough time for the most effective spawning to help keep the resource around. Be it 1-2-3 or more years... but I'm not a marine biologist. My primary issue with this whole debate is when these 3 fish are being shipped to gamefish states while the commercial position is that the bill would deprive NC inland folks from access to them. OK, don't ship them out of state, which also means the profit margin might not be the best available. But if the true intent of our commercial industry was to keep access for NC folks, then this is not an issue. Don't throw away dead bycatch, but don't sell the excess quota... have a community dinner to help support the locals. And I also see NO reason for there to be ANY rec gill nets in the water. Castnets... been slinging them for 40 years now, and it's very easy to make sure the only thing kept is what was targeted. And yes, that does mean to call out the lazy rec who doesn't respect what we have in NC. Bad apples on both sides, and just like our pathetic Congress... don't let the extremes determine what is best for the masses.

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