Harkers Island, N.C.
April 29, 2013
TO THE EDITOR:
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.
ALISON TOMLINSON WILLIS