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NC HB 353 Gamefish Status Bill Takes Backseat to Budget Politics.

by BAA Staff | Updated: 07.08.2011 |

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Recreational Fishing takes it on the chin… AGAIN, in the name of partisan wrangling in the bowels of the good ole boy network that is NC politics.

With a purported 40-50 pro votes in the senate and 80-120 pro votes in the House, the long awaited HB 353 will not even get to vote -- Again. For the second time the bill is being shelved until next years short session where it will more than likely pass. But why not now, why not this session? July 1, 2011 could have been the beginning of a new season for game fishing in NC.


The answer politics. With Governor Perdue opposing the bill sponsored by 3 Republicans and 1 Democrat, this legislation that will dramatically impact the recreational fishing economy of the state has fallen prey to the typical partisan wrangling we have come to live with from both state and federal governments. With the Governor and the Republicans at odds over the budget, her subsequent veto and then their subsequent override, the bill was shelved despite its majority support in the legislature.


Then there is the Governors Association with the NC Marine Fisheries Commission, appointed by the Governor with only one representative for recreational fishing on the panel. They don’t feel the bill is necessary. Whether that is because the bill will change how their positions are filled and vacated, is still to be determined


Two years in attempts to leave committee for a vote, HB 353 accomplishes a number of positive initiatives that will change the way salt water fisheries and specifically 3 species will be managed. In a nut shell 353 will:


• Make changes to the appointment process to the N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission.
• Create a hook and line commercial fishery.
• Eliminate the trawl boat fishery in North Carolina. (NC is currently the last state in the Southeast and gulf states that still allows trawler fishing)
• Elevate Striped Bass, Red Drum (spots) and Spotted Sea Trout to game fish status and ban the commercial sale of these species.
• Regulate the placement of nets and other fishing apparatus in coastal fishing waters.
• Modify the Fisheries Reform Act of 1997.
• Define whether Marine Fisheries should be a division of the Coastal Resources Commission or the  Wildlife Resources Commission.
• Generate a mitagation fund for documented by-catch that can no longer be sold by commercial watermen.

 

The obvious implications to 800,000 licensed saltwater recreational fishers is dramatic as fisheries will no longer consider the protected species legal for sale. The impact to commercial fishing is arguably negligible as the bill supports mitigation to watermen that document their catch, with the establishment of a subsidy fund. Extensive research from data supplied by the NC Marine Fisheries Commission documents that very few commercial watermen would suffer fiscal damage. The proposed protected species make up only a small fraction of most fishermen’s catch.

Although the proposed legislation reimburses commercial fishermen for the loss in revenue, most watermen are still opposed, and feel they have good reason. In their opinion the Republican backed bill is job killing legislation. They believe this is another attempt to crush commercial fishing in NC. Meanwhile the Democratic Governor of the state seems to have the commercial fishing industry in her pocket fighting regulation of corporate interests. Yes, NC’s good ole boy network makes for some strange bedfellows indeed.


HB 353 got a second life this year in the face of video reports posted showing mass dumping of striped bass of keeper length, as the trawlers eliminated over-catch. NC Marine fisheries only allow a catch of 50 fish or 2000 lbs, easily attainable in a day by a commercial vessel. However the bill has had it’s ups and down over the last few years as more recreational fishers appreciate the impact of similar bills on habitat, population and economy in states with similar legislation (Texas and Florida). In fact the bill is partially inspired by the models these states have established and the following positive surge in revenue from the recreational fishing industry.

 

CCA has also come out strong for the bill to pass and has developed a 5 minute video regarding the benefits of the bill to the economy and habitat improvement.


Redfish throughout all the southern Atlantic states have protected gamefish status. That is, all except for North Carolina. In NC, reds are allowed as by-catch for the commercial fishing industry.