LEGISLATIVE UPDATE for 4/16/2021:
NORTH CAROLINA GENERAL ASSEMBLY:
Note that due to the length of this update, the list of bills will be abbreviated so only the two new bills will be listed. The previous bills had no action this week.
The most significant issue related to the General Assembly this week was the introduction of a net ban bill by Representative Billy Richardson from Cumberland County. He did something similar in 1994. Back then his bill called for a “non-binding referendum put to the voters statewide. If it would have passed, it still would have needed action by the General Assembly to be put in place. That bill was killed in the Rules Committee without any discussion. I’ll go into more detail about that history later.
H-513 is Rep. Richardson’s net ban bill. The name listed for the bill is PEOPLES’ CHOICE FOR MARINE SOURCES. That is probably a typo for the title and should be RESOURCES, but that certainly isn’t the only problem with the bill. When filed, the only other sponsor was Representative Marvin Lucas, also from Cumberland County. Larry Yarborough added his name later. The bill was referred to House Rules.
The other bill introduced this week is H-518 by Representative Ed Goodwin. All of the sponsors are listed below. The title is TEMPORARILY WAIVE COMMERCIAL FISHING FEES. The bill would waive Standard Commercial Fishing Licenses, Retired SCFL, Shellfish licenses and Commercial fishing vessel registration for the period of April 1, 2021 through June 29, 2022. Any fees paid already would be subject to a refund upon request. NCFA supports the measure with the following modifications:
1.) Provisions must be made for the Division of Marine Fisheries to recoup some of the revenue lost as a result of the measure. A portion of the money DMF derives from these license sales is used to support programs essential to the commercial fishing industry.
2.) A request to consider including for-hire licenses in the exemption as well.
The bill has been referred to the Marine Resources Committee.
H-513 PEOPLES’ CHOICE FOR MARINE SOURCES
Sponsored by Richardson, Lucas, Yarborough
Currently in House Rules;
H-518 TEMPORARILY WAIVE COMMERCIAL FISHING FEES
Sponsored by Goodwin, Hanig, Wray, Richardson, Autry, Brisson, Carney, Carter, Fisher, Harrison, Hunter, Iler, Insko, Lucas, McNeely, Moss, Shepard
Currently in House Marine Resources; if favorable to Finance, then Rules.
NCFA POSITION ON H-513; PEOPLES’ CHOICE FOR MARINE SOURCES; (NET BAN BILL):
It goes without saying that the North Carolina Fisheries Association is opposed to H.B. 513, PEOPLES’ CHOICE FOR MARINE SOURCES, or the Net Ban Referendum Bill.
While the stated purpose of H.B. 513 is “to protect saltwater finfish, shellfish, and other marine animals from unnecessary killing, overfishing, and waste “the true purpose, as with all gear ban or gamefish bills, is to reallocate the resource from one user group to another.
Did you know that no commercial fishing gear ban has ever been implemented by a state or federal agency tasked with managing coastal fisheries? Why is legislation always used to ban commercial gears rather than the fisheries management process?
The answer is quite simple: gear bans are not necessary and not supported by science unless, of course, you include the political sciences. Fisheries Managers regulate the use of gears, rather than prohibit them, to achieve sustainable harvest and have done so in NC. Gill nets are the most highly regulated gear in North Carolina mostly due to perception and not reality.
Rhetoric from groups like the Coastal Conservation Association (CCA) and the North Carolina Wildlife Federation (NCWF) have painted nets as an unregulated, indiscriminate, and destructive gear but the data tells a different story. Dead discards or “waste“ from gill nets have been greatly reduced for many species of finfish like Red Drum, Southern Flounder and Striped Bass simply by regulating the construction and \ or use of the gear. Waste from gill nets now makes up a very small percentage of the total removals for these species while waste in the recreational fisheries has become a significant portion of the total removals. For example, between 2008 and 2017 the recreational sector removed 3,895,597 Red Drum from the stock, 1,568,177 of which were dead discards or waste. These 1,568,177 fish wasted recreationally, over this ten- year period, alone exceeds the total commercial removals, harvest and dead discards combined, for the 29 – year period from 1989 to 2017 of 1,550,130 red drum. If waste in our fisheries is a concern you need to look at all gears for both sectors and determine the level of waste and how or even if it is impacting overall abundance, not single out a gear for prohibition based simply on personal perception.
Since 1994 the number of gillnet trips has decreased by more than 50% as have the number of vessels and fishermen participating in the gill net fisheries. The pounds of fish harvested by gill nets has also been reduced by more than 50% which is interesting, considering the many gear restrictions implemented in this time period. One would assume harvest would have dropped significantly more than effort did. During this same time period the number and pounds of fish harvested recreationally has changed very little but the numbers of fish released and subsequent dead discards or waste has increased dramatically, nearly tripling. This shows that overall, recreational opportunity to catch fish has increased despite what you may have heard to the contrary.
I’m not sure what the bill sponsors mean by “unnecessary killing “but as we interpret it, unnecessary means something that is not a necessity or non-essential. One of the most important lessons gleaned from the covid-19 pandemic has been that domestic food production is essential to national stability. While some states chose to prohibit recreational fishing, commercial fishermen across this country were deemed essential workers in the food production industry and allowed to operate. As meat processing facilities across the country struggled, many Americans turned to their local seafood market for the protein they needed. Nets are an essential gear for many, small scale, North Carolina fishermen and without this gear seafood production will certainly be reduced, as it has with every gill net regulation implemented since the mid 90’s. Commercial fishermen and their gears are necessary and essential to the millions of citizens who are unable to access our fisheries resources for themselves.
Commercial gear bans have been adopted in many coastal states as you may have heard many times. What you probably have not heard is that fisheries managers in those states cannot tell if the predicted benefits from the net bans have been realized. While recreational fishermen often claim success, as they are now catching fish previously harvested by commercial gears (reallocation), managers will tell you the net bans have not prevented overfishing or resulted in overall increases in abundance for many species. In fact, recreational size limits have increased and creel limits have decreased for many highly valued recreational species like Red Drum, Speckled Trout, and Southern Flounder despite the commercial gear bans and \ or gamefish status. While there is some anecdotal evidence of increases for a couple of species, changes to recreational regulations and fish stocking programs make it impossible to determine if the net ban was responsible. The only quantifiable impact of the gear bans has been the negative impacts to commercial fishing families and their communities.
Gill nets certainly interact with “other marine animals “as do other commercial and recreational gears. North Carolinas anchored gill net fisheries currently operate under two Federal Incidental Take Permits ( ITP’s ) meant to reduce interactions with endangered sea turtles and sturgeon. These ITP’s are required for any fishery to legally interact with endangered species. The recreational sector is known to illegally capture endangered sea turtles but the state has taken no action to either reduce or prevent these interactions from occurring. Simply put , the law has not been evenly applied to all citizens making commercial fishermen feel like second class citizens. A quick google search will show that recreational anglers catch turtles, birds, and dolphins but no one has ever drafted a bill proposing a ban on hook and line gear. Again, conservation is not the goal of gear bans so those proposing the ban only point out the issues with the gear they no longer wish to compete with.
As mentioned above reallocation is and always has been the true goal and result of net bans. I recently had the opportunity to provide feedback on a paper, written by a scientist at UNC, for the NC Marine and Estuary Foundation. The paper compared North Carolinas fishery management structure and strategies to the 23 other coastal states and gear bans were part of that comparison. In this paper gear bans were listed under the heading “Resource Allocation “as that is the driving force behind net bans.
Net bans and gamefish bills are not management strategies. They are political strategies utilized by groups who want to reduce the ability of those they view as competition to harvest fish. Nothing more!
By proposing a public referendum, the bill sponsors are hoping to give these groups the opportunity to win over NC voters who are largely uneducated when it comes to coastal fisheries issues. If this bill were passed these groups will ramp their efforts to misinform the public, as they have done in other states, knowing that the group that controls messaging controls the vote.
Members of the NC General Assembly have a responsibility to educate themselves on an issue before taking action. Likewise, NCFA members should be aware of the issues above when speaking or writing about the issue. Unlike the “other side”, let’s use facts and not rhetoric when corresponding or talking to elected officials. And consider this: even if you have all the facts but are disrespectful to those you are conversing with, you lose! And if you lose, WE lose!
If you have any questions or concerns regarding this issue before corresponding with your elected officials, contact us.
RE: BLUEFISH – COMMERCIAL PURPOSES – POSSESSION LIMIT
This proclamation supersedes proclamation FF-6-2021, dated December 11, 2020. It
establishes the possession limit for the commercial bluefish fishery. The fishery will close
by proclamation once the commercial quota is projected to be reached or December 31,
2021, whichever occurs first.
John G. Batherson, Acting Director, Division of Marine Fisheries, hereby announces that effective
at 12:01 A.M., April 16, 2021, the following restrictions will apply to the commercial bluefish
fishery in Coastal Fishing Waters:
- HARVEST LIMIT AND PERIOD
- It is unlawful for an individual or commercial fishing operation, regardless of the
number of persons, license holders, or vessels involved, to possess, sell, or offer
for sale more than 800 pounds of bluefish per day or per trip, whichever is more
- The fishery will close by proclamation once the commercial quota is projected to be
reached or December 31, 2021, whichever occurs first.