By Rob Morris on March 21, 2011
State legislation to classify striped bass, red drum and speckled trout as game fish was denounced Monday by Dare County commissioners, who said it would be another blow to the commercial industry and take the popular fish off consumers’ dinner tables.
The Board of Commissioners passed a resolution opposing the House bill, which was introduced a month after striped bass kills that touched off a public uproar during this winter’s commercial trawling season.
Commissioner Mike Johnson said his objections to the legislation center on access. Game fish cannot be harvested or sold commercially, so the designation would essentially limit catching and consuming them to recreational angers with boats, he said.
A provision to provide compensation for losses was an insult to watermen, Johnson suggested, saying “never, ever have you heard a commercial fisherman say please send us a check, please give us a subsidy.”
“The only thing these men ever asked is to let them go to work,” he said.
After the resolution was passed, Commissioner Allen Burrus was blunter. He said the legislation was being pushed by what he described as elitists seeking exclusive access to a resource.
“Only those that can afford boats that are $40,000 or more are going to have the opportunity it to catch it,” he said.
The legislation runs counter to the 1997 Fisheries Reform Act, which seeks to strike a balance between commercial and recreational interests to protect resources, the resolution said.
Om Monday night, the Nags Head Board of Commissioners also passed a resolution opposing the bill.
It said that “allocating 100 percent of the resource to less than 3 percent of the population of our state and to specific user groups would be a travesty of fairness, a violation of the FRA and devastating to the economies of coastal communities.”
The legislation comes at a particularly sensitive time on the Outer Banks. Dredges cannot keep up with severe shoaling in Oregon Inlet, and trawlers are finding it difficult, if not impossible, to get in and out. The president’s proposed budget includes only $1 million for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to continue dredging the channel. Historically, the cost for minimal upkeep has ranged from $5 million to $7 million annually.
While the commissioners said the legislation would hurt commercial fishing, the Coastal Conservation Association, which is behind the bill, contends it is aimed at protecting resources from wasteful practices.
“It’s time the State recognized the overwhelming economic contribution recreational saltwater fishing makes to coastal communities,” Jay Dail, chairman of CCA NC, said in a statement. “Managed properly, our fishery in N.C. would bring much needed relief, in the way of jobs and tourism, benefiting local businesses along our coast.”
The House bill would put all three species off limits to commercial operations.
Previous legislation to designate red drum and speckled trout game fish made no headway in the General Assembly. But with the added attention to the striped bass and many new lawmakers in Raleigh, that could change.
Commercial watermen argue that recreational throwbacks are responsible for just as many or more fish mortalities.
Two widely publicized fish kills this winter led to changes in the rules for commercial catches of striped bass.
The first one involved the release of fish from an overloaded net, the state Marine Fisheries Commission said. The second, smaller one took place the day trawlers were allowed back out under new rules that set the daily limit at 2,000 pounds and allowed the transfer of fish exceeding that to other licensed boats. The mortalities were apparently the result of culling fish from catches.
Fisheries officials subsequently decided to re-open the season one day at a time and limit trawls of nets to 30 minutes.
The bill, introduced by a bipartisan group of legislators, would restrict catches to hook and line in coastal waters. The legislation would prohibit selling or trading the fish and possessing them for sale inside or outside the state.
It calls for setting up a compensation fund that would pay commercial operations the equivalent of the average annual income from the species over a period of three years. The fund would also provide compensation for gear that could no longer be used because of the new prohibition.
Total payouts would be limited to $1 million.