In essentials, North Carolina’s House Bill 983 is a replication of prior attempts to designate red drum, spotted sea trout and striped bass as game fish.
The tricky part is that it includes funds to pay for fisheries observers and dredging of shallow-draft channels, which are critical to commercial fleets and coastal communities.
The ironically named Fisheries Development Act would actually destroy the commercial fisheries for these species, which accounts for just 10 percent of their harvest. (I’m mystified as to what fisheries this bill would be developing, considering the recreational take on these species is around 90 percent already. Do they need 100 percent to fully develop?)
The bill also would remove those fish from the marketplace, meaning the only people who could eat them are the ones who fish for them. Just as we begin to understand that eating locally supports local economies as well as good overall health, why would we remove the option for the public to buy local fish?
Some critics of the bill, including Sean McKeon, head of the nonprofit N.C. Fisheries Association, call it an end-run around a net ban.
This wouldn’t be the first time the Coastal Conservation Association — a strong supporter of the game fish designation — would be associated with a commercial fishing net ban.
In fact, it wouldn’t even be the first time in the last six months. In December, Oregon gillnetters were relegated to narrow channels on the Columbia river as a result of a CCA-backed measure. That is, until a judge stepped in and agreed with supporters of the commercial fishing fleet that their critics need more research in order to justify stripping them of their livelihoods.
A petition to oppose the bill has already garnered nearly 600 signatures in its aim for 1,000.
The bill was introduced two weeks ago and is quickly gaining opposition. But as we saw in Oregon, opponents of commercial fishing are steadfast. We must stand together to preserve fishermen’s access to the water and to the fish, no matter how small or far-flung the port.