Turning the May 6 Dare Board of Commissioners meeting over to Vice Chairman Richard Johnson, Board Chairman Warren Judge, Commissioner Bob Woodard and County Manager Bobby Outten left the meeting early to attend the "public forum" scheduled for that afternoon at the Legislative Office Building in Raleigh. The topic being addressed in the forum was House Bill 983, the 2013 Fisheries Economic Development Act or "Game Fish Bill."
The proposed legislation would designate speckled trout, red drum and striped bass as "game fish" and prohibit their commercial sale in restaurants and seafood stores.
Announcing several changes in the meeting's agenda, including rescheduling Outten's presentation of the recommended budget, Judge said, "I apologize if we disappoint anybody who may have made a trip up here today. At first I wasn't going to disrupt this meeting, but as I got to thinking about it and talking with my colleagues, we felt it was very important that we do have a presence there. Many of our residents and citizens have already left to be up there at the hearing, as well as people from down south."
A statement posted by the commissioners on the county website on May 3 encouraged Dare residents to attend the hearing and make their voices heard. "In addition to coastal families affected by the proposed legislation," the statement said, "local foods advocates and seafood consumers from across the state are encouraged to attend the forum as the number of attendees will be an important statement to legislators.
"The Dare County Board of Commissioners passed a resolution opposing Game Fish Status for these species in 2011, requesting that the North Carolina General Assembly oppose 'Game Fish Status' and honor the Fisheries Reform Act by continuing to make all fish species available for the benefit and enjoyment of all North Carolina citizens."
The statement also encouraged citizens who were unable to attend the hearing to sign an online petition opposing it. The petition stated, "House Bill 983 diminishes food sovereignty in North Carolina by restricting the harvest of red drum, spotted sea trout, and striped bass to recreational fishermen, reserving those nutritious food sources to less than 3 percent of the state's population. The bill would deprive consumers of access to fresh, locally harvested fish by prohibiting harvest by the commercial fishermen who bring those fish from sea to shore for N.C. consumers. Gamefish designation for these three species, as proposed in HB 983, is not a conservation measure. It is an allocation of a public trust resource to a small, exclusive percentage of the population. Red drum, spotted sea trout, and striped bass should be available for the benefit and enjoyment of all North Carolina citizens."
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