Watermen, locals descend on Raleigh to fight fisheries bill

By on June 14, 2017

Sharon Peele Kennedy (left), Mikey Daniels and Michael Bartell greet fellow opponents of the bill outside the legislature. (Sam Walker)

Hundreds of commercial fishermen and their families, along with local government and agency leaders spent Wednesday walking the halls of the North Carolina Legislative Building in an effort to battle a bill they say could shut down the entire industry.

House Bill 867 would attempt to rewrite the Fisheries Reform Act, which is the body of statutes that provides the framework for fisheries management in North Carolina.

The event was organized by North Carolina Watermen United and the North Carolina Fisheries Association.

Those who came to support the bill were instructed by Jerry Schill, director of government affairs for the NCFA, to visit with as many legislators as possible to share their stories of how the measure would be detrimental to their livelihoods.

But just as opponents were arriving on Jones Street in Downtown Raleigh, many wearing white T-shirts and red buttons calling for a no vote, word trickled out that the legislation was being amended.

Rep. Beverly Boswell, R-Kill Devil Hills, told a gathering of local officials from Dare County and commercial fishing business leaders and advocates that legislators were working on possible changes to the bill until 1:30 a.m. Wednesday.

Boswell gave the group a list of legislators to talk with about the potential impact to not just the fishing industry, but Dare County and North Carolina as a whole.

Dell Newman of Swan Quarter (left), Dare Co. Manager Bobby Outten, commissioners Bob Woodard, Rob Ross and Wally Overman waiting outside for their next meeting with a senator.

“We have been touting the last four years about North Carolina being business friendly,” Boswell said. “This bill goes completely against that.”

“She is working extremely hard on behalf of our fishermen,” said Dare County Board of Commissioners Chairman Bob Woodard.

Board Vice Chairman Wally Overman, Commissioners Steve House, Rob Ross and Jim Tobin, and County Manager Bobby Outten were among those who made the nearly four-hour trip on U.S. 64 to the state Capitol.

“We also met with several other House and Senate members and received very favorable support,” Woodard said. “We are hopeful that the legislature will not harm our fishermen.”

The full House met Wednesday afternoon, where they opened their session with a special welcome to those who came in from the coast for the day.

The bill currently resides in the House Wildlife Resources Committee, which discussed the bill but took no action last week.

It is not clear if the bill will get out of the House before the General Assembly wraps up its work for the year, possibly before the end of the month.

It has the backing of the North Carolina Chamber of Commerce, which was scheduled to have representatives meet in Dare County on Monday with The Outer Banks Chamber leadership and others to discuss their support

The state chamber said in an editorial that both commercial and recreational landings decreased in 2016 and is evidence that the fishery overall is on the decline, which neccesitates making wholesale changes to how fisheries are managed.

That meeting was cancelled at the last minute. The local chamber had earlier passed a resolution opposing the bill.

Among the proposals in the bill are changing management goals from “sustainable harvest” levels to “conservation” goals and to eliminate by-catch.

Opponents say that could open the door to declaring any species as having gamefish status and to shut down commercial fisheries on a gear-by-gear basis or a species basis, allowing only a catch-and-release recreational fishery.

The bill would also abolish advisory committees, composed of members from recreational, commercial and science communities, that make recommendations to the Marine Fisheries Commission on pending issues.

Instead, a council of up to 20 members would be created to provide input on fisheries management plans, but none of the seats would be designated to ensure inclusion of all three groups, and the commission would make the appointments to include “appropriate” representation.

And the bill asks for $750,000 for studies on the impacts of rule changes to commercial license holders, to design and implement a commercial fishing license buyback program, to expand efforts to remove crab pots and derelict gear from state waters, and to expand aquaculture and shellfish leasing programs.

Holders of licenses that the state buys back would get preference in participating in both the gear removal and leasing programs under the bill.

Watermen and supporters of the industry who traveled by bus from Dare County on Wednesday said they felt the trip was productive, because they were able to put a face on the industry for lawmakers from every corner of the state to see.

Discussions on the bus that departed Manteo at 5:30 a.m. ranged from what the current regulations on fishing have done to the industry to what could be coming down the road.

Many also agreed there is a lack of common sense evidenced by those who want to make North Carolina’s waters like other southern states and restrict commercial fishing to offshore areas.

And while it is not yet known if the bill will move forward, everyone who came from border-to-border along North Carolina’s coast to lobby against the measure agreed that the fight to keep the commercial fishing industry alive in the state may never end.



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Comments

  • Jackalack

    The Question: What does Jordan say?

    Thursday, Jun 15 @ 9:09 am
  • Kathy Sparrow

    Thanks for this report and for coming on the bus. As someone who was part of trying to get Gary Salamido, VP Legislative Affairs, NCChamber here to the Outer Banks on Monday, 6/12, to take a tour of Wanchese and see the vibrant business community it is, I want to say that Gary sending an email at 8:10 am on the day he was supposed to be here (he was arriving at 1 pm) speaks volumes for the NCChamber’s lack of professional respect and courtesy that he displayed to the Outer Banks Chamber and to all those who put in time and effort for his “visit”. Tacky. Tacky. Tacky.

    Thursday, Jun 15 @ 10:15 am
  • Sean

    I like eating local caught shrimp trout flounder puppy drum and crab. You won’t stop me or tske it away from me. It’s my right as a citizen. I just won’t be greedy like our politicians. If you want to take my rights away then do it you and you provide for me and my family

    Thursday, Jun 15 @ 11:33 am