By Jerry Schill
June 19, 2019
My last column dealt with a federal issue, but this one will be totally state related.
We are now in our fourth full month of the North Carolina General Assembly’s “long session”. It’s hard to say how long to it will last, but consider it safe to say, through June.
Several fish bills have been introduced in the Senate and House with some being favored by us and some opposed. So far, we’re doing ok on both fronts but the dust certainly hasn’t settled yet. The two House bills we opposed, H-483 and H-486 both received favorable reports in the House Wildlife Resources Committee, but haven’t had any further action, other than discussion in the House Republican caucus where, we’re told, they didn’t get a thumbs up for moving forward. Since 483, titled LET THEM SPAWN, didn’t have any monetary component, it should be dead as it did not make the May 9th crossover deadline. That means if a bill does not pass either the House or the Senate by that date, it’s dead for this session, other than for exceptions which this bill did not include. H-486 does have a monetary component so it still remains in the House Finance Committee even though the caucus doesn’t have much of an appetite for it. Things can change quickly though, so we’ll keep an eye on them.
On April 16th Glenn Skinner and I attended the meeting of the House Wildlife Resources Committee where H-483 and H-486 were on the agenda. The first bill considered was 486, COMMERCIAL FISHING LICENSE REFORMS. After a very poor explanation of the current state of our fisheries by Rep. Larry Yarborough, there was little discussion by committee members but one did request to hear of NCFA’s position, so I went to the microphone and explained that the bill was very similar to one that was introduced last year and didn’t go anywhere. What makes this one even worse is that it would double commercial fishermen’s license fees coming shortly after a major hurricane to hit our coast. Although I begged the committee members not to vote for the bill, it was given a favorable report 6 to 4.
Next, the committee considered 483, LET THEM SPAWN. There was even less discussion on this bill and although a member requested to hear NCFA’s position, we were not given permission to speak. Another committee member requested to hear the position of the Director of Marine Fisheries, as he was in the room. Again, that request was denied! That bill also received a favorable report. In over 30 years of experience, it was the most disgusting display of arrogance in ramming through a bill without proper vetting I’ve seen! And please don’t read partisanship into this. While the leadership is Republican, both parties serve on the committee and both parties saw fit to vote to support the bill without the benefit of hearing the other side. Worse, the other side was the science behind why this was a bad bill!
On a much more positive note, there were two bills that made it through two Senate committees and passed on the floor. S-554 MARINE FISHERIES REFORMS, and S-648 SUPPORT SHELLFISH AQUACULTURE, both passed the Senate Agriculture, Environment and Natural Resources Committee and the Rules Committee unanimously. On the floor, S-554 passed 46 to 1 and S-648 passed 47 to 0! Regarding the Fisheries Reform bill, Senator Norman Sanderson did an excellent job in explaining the history of the Fisheries Reform Act of 1997 and the need for the revisions. The Department of Environmental Quality and Division of Marine Fisheries as well as NCFA are supporting the legislation, which came about after a sit down meeting at DMF that included DEQ and DMF representatives, Coastal Conservation Association (CCA), NC Wildlife Federation, Coastal Federation and NCFA. For NCFA, Brent Fulcher, Glenn Skinner and I were there.
When discussions began, there were parts of the proposal the various groups had issues with, but the difference was that NCFA remained involved in the discussions over the next several weeks and the language was revised to our satisfaction. The others just complained, took their ball and went home.
The bill eliminates the language that allows the spouse of a commercial fisherman to sit on the Marine Fisheries Commission. I had some heartburn over that at first because I remember the discussions that went into that provision before the FRA was passed over 20 years ago. However, in practice the Commission needs real, practical experience on the water. Also, the two at-large seats would be replaced with two additional individuals from a science perspective. There’s been too much hanky panky been played with the at-large seats over the years.
Bottom line is that any successful Commission needs balanced appointments, regardless of the categories. NCFA’s position over the years has been that anyone who qualifies to sit on the Commission as recreational or commercial should NOT be appointed to an at-large seat. Republican and Democrat Governors didn’t see it that way though as it wasn’t statutory language, so it led to abuse on both the sides of the issues.
Finally, while the session so far has been fraught with extreme disappointment, it’s also had the sweet smell of success. The proverbial roller coaster ride, if you will. Allow me to give encouragement to the readers and well-deserved credit to our coastal legislators that have been very engaged on these issues. They have been persistent and consistent and worthy of our thanks and encouragement!
From now until the end of session, the work will be on the House side working for the passage of the two bills that came over from the Senate and assuring the bad ones currently in the House don’t make it to the Senate.
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