Battle for control of North Carolina seafood is complicated

By on September 12, 2015

 North Carolina’s fishing resources generate millions of dollars a year, and many come to the beach to enjoy what they believe is freshly caught seafood that comes from local docks to the seafood market or a restaurant table.

But much of it is not local. Snow crab, king crab, the vast majority of shrimp and scallops, as well as flounder and other lesser-known delicacies are more often than not brought in from other states and foreign countries.

While some state government agencies spend tax dollars urging people to consume North Carolina seafood, other departments and even elected officials are exerting efforts in the opposite direction, essentially making it increasingly difficult for commercial fishermen to harvest local seafood.


Making the problem even more complex, the machinery of state government has chosen to view the allocation of finfish and shellfish as a resource to be divided between two groups: recreational anglers and commercial fishermen.

Left out of the equation are the consumers of seafood, restaurants, seafood markets, grocery stores and just about anyone else who does not harvest fish by their own hand.

Over a year ago, the Voice was asked to look into how North Carolina manages it fisheries.

When we began, we had no opinions and knew little of the politics behind the control of fisheries and the right to harvest these resources.

But it soon became apparent that one Rhode Island-sized interest group, in terms of membership, is exerting a Texas-sized influence over a powerful part of the General Assembly, as well as regulatory agencies.

Fisheries Regulation

In North Carolina, fisheries are managed by the Marine Fisheries Commission (MFC), a nine-member panel, each an appointee chosen by the governor.

In turn, the Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) implements and enforces the policies set forth by the commission. DMF itself is a division of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

Additionally, all of the groups work with and answer to federally created regional groups along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts in order to manage the entire stock of fish migrating from Maine to Texas.

The result is a complex set of quotas, rules and other measures that start at federal and regional levels and work their way down to state-level management.

This patchwork of overlapping regulatory entities creates a perfect storm for politics to enter the process, often at the expense of science, which itself is also subject to political meddling.

At the federal and regional level, states compete against one another for their share of assigned quotas for various species of fish. And, at all levels, commercial and recreational anglers compete to divide their share of each quota.

In North Carolina, this competition between commercial and recreational anglers has resulted in some intense and high stakes battles between the two sides. And we found the battles often take place outside of the public eye.

Who seems to be fighting who?

Our research revealed two significant flaws in how fisheries are managed in this state and most others, flaws that fail to include all users of fishery resources and therefore improperly define the user and end user groups.

Start with how North Carolina regulates fishery resources within its own borders.

Enabling legislation directs the Marine Fisheries Commission to “manage, restore, develop, cultivate, protect and regulate the marine and estuarine resources within its jurisdiction” and implement laws and management measures in pursuit of their mandate.

One paragraph makes a critical function of the MFC very clear, “To provide fair regulation of commercial and recreational fishing groups in the interest of the public.”

But the current structure of the board raises questions about whether that mandate can ever be met.

The nine-member panel has three slots reserved for recreational interests and three for commercial. Rounding out the membership are two at-large seats and one seat reserved for a scientist with marine resources expertise.

Politics can easily enter into the process if one side controls both at-large seats, thus gaining a five-person simple majority.

Until June 30, when the term expired of at-large member Anna Beckwith, the two current at-large members have demonstrated a bias toward recreational interests.

That has been evident in the backing by MFC members of policies endorsed by the Coastal Conservation Association (CCA), such as a Joint Enforcement Agreement with federal authorities and requiring charter boat captains to keep logs of where they catch fish.

It has also been underscored by the attempted designation of certain species as off limits to commercial harvest and even sale, including massive proposed restrictions on the harvest of shrimp, flounder and trout.

The other problem with the panel’s current makeup suggests that the public at large is being shortchanged and underrepresented in fisheries regulation.

Since both commercial and recreational interests actually catch fish, the “fair regulation” argument and the composition of the MFC membership appears split into two narrow competing groups — those who catch fish for sport and personal consumption and those who harvest fish for commercial profit.

As a result, commercial fishermen do not represent merely their small numbers. They represent, by proxy, all of the rest of the public who consume fish they cannot catch for themselves.

Those of us who order fin and shellfish from restaurant menus, or buy fish from grocery stores and fish markets, have no representation on the MFC.

So it can be argued that where the Coastal Conservation Association is concerned, this much larger group of consumers simply doesn’t exist, especially those who want species not typically available outside of commercial fishing communities.

The CCA is why, for example, wild blackened redfish (called red drum in North Carolina) is no longer available on New Orleans menus. New Orleans made blackened fish, especially redfish, famous across the country.

If you love rockfish, be prepared to catch it on your own. If the CCA ever wins its battle, wild rockfish will never again be sold or served in North Carolina restaurants or seafood markets and grocery stores.

The CCA long ago succeeded in banning commercial harvest and retail sale of redfish in Louisiana, leaving the less nutritious and even less tasty farm-raised version as the only option for those who don’t catch redfish recreationally.

It was blackened Louisiana redfish that put redfish and the spicy art of serving it blackened on the national map. In the Big Easy, wild redfish is no longer on the menu.

And it is why the rest of us, including the occasional weekend recreational angler, should be concerned about the CCA’s political influence.

In part 2, we look at the Coastal Conservation Association and its influence on the Marine Fisheries Commission, as well as its role with particularly one, and perhaps both, at-large seats on the commission.


Barnhill Building Group has been selected as the Construction Manager @ Risk by the College of the Albemarle and is seeking to pre-qualify construction trade contractors to submit bids for the furnishing labor, materials, equipment, and tools for the new College of The Albemarle – Allied Health Sciences Simulation Lab (COA Health Sciences) located in Elizabeth City, NC. Please note: Only subcontractors who have been prequalified by Barnhill will be able to submit a Bid.

The project consists of the new construction of a 38,000-sf, 2-story expansion to the existing Owens Health Sciences Center and will house classrooms, labs, and a simulation lab. The site is just over just over 4.5 acres and is located on an active campus. This new construction will be a steel structure with a brick and metal panel veneer, curtainwall, and storefront glazing with a PVC roof membrane.

Principal trade and specialty contractors are solicited for the following Bid Packages:

BP0100: General Trades

BP0105: Final Cleaning

BP0390: Turnkey Concrete

BP0400: Turnkey Masonry

BP0500: Structural Steel & Misc. Steel

BP0740: Roofing

BP0750: Metal Panels

BP0790: Caulking / Caulking

BP0800: Turnkey Doors/Frames/Hardware

BP0840: Glass & Glazing

BP0925: Drywall

BP0960: Resilient Flooring

BP0980: Acoustical Ceilings

BP0990: Painting & Wallcovering

BP1005: Toilet Specialties / Accessories / Division 10

BP1010: Signage

BP1098: Demountable Partitions

BP1230: Finish Carpentry and Casework

BP1250: Window Treatment

BP1400: Elevators

BP2100: Fire Protection

BP2200: Plumbing

BP2300: HVAC

BP2600: Turnkey Electrical

BP3100: Turnkey Sitework

BP3290: Landscaping

Packages may be added and/or deleted at the discretion of the Construction Manager. Historically underutilized business firms are encouraged to complete participation submittals.

HUB/MWBE OUTREACH MEETING: Barnhill Building Group will be conducting a HUB/MWBE Informational Session. You are encouraged to attend the following session to learn more about project participation opportunities available to you. These seminars will help to: Learn about project and scope; Inform and train Minority/HUB contractors in preparation for bidding this project; Assist in registration on the State of North Carolina Vendor link; Stimulate opportunities for Networking with other firms. Location and time TBD. Please visit our planroom at for more information.

Interested contractors should submit their completed prequalification submittals, by July 22, 2024, to Meredith Terrell at or hardcopies can be mailed to Barnhill Contracting Company PO Box 31765 Raleigh, NC 27622 (4325 Pleasant Valley Road, NC 27612).


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