Recreational and Commercial Fishermen Speak Out on N.C. Gamefish Bill

Government moves slowly and often seems impenetrable. But when it lowers its guard and allows the public to address elected representatives directly, we witness one of the truest forms of the democratic process.

I was reminded of this on Feb. 2 when I attended a legislative hearing on the gamefish bill in North Carolina to protect red drum, spotted sea trout (speckled trout) and striped bass from commercial gill netting.

Representatives of commercial fishermen, who oppose the bill as a threat to their livelihoods, and recreational fishermen, who want to see the numbers of fish increase, were given a chance to state their cases. The bill would effectively ban gill netting for and commercial sale of these fish. It’s too early to say whether either side truly hit a home run with the committee during the hearing, but the recreational fishermen were better organized, outnumbered commercial representatives by 3-1, and delivered some of the more compelling comments.

A lobbyist, a seafood store owner and a radio personality spoke about how the bill would put hard-working commercial fishermen out of work and take red fish, speckled trout and striped bass off the plates of the public. They claimed the measure would essentially transfer rights to the three species as seafood from a majority of the state’s population to a small group of “wealthy, elitist recreational fishermen who live on the coast.”

Recreational fishing guides, store owners and a boat builder effectively countered these arguments by claiming their livelihoods also depend on these species, and that red fish, speckled trout and stripers only accounted for roughly two percent of the commercial fishing income from 2010 according to state figures. They also repeated state figures that the direct and indirect economic impact of recreational fishing for N.C. was over $2 billion, while commercial fishing represents a fraction of that.

They noted that gamefish status for these species has effectively worked in South Carolina, Georgia, Florida and Louisiana. Red fishing in Louisiana and South Carolina far surpasses that in North Carolina and Mississippi where gill netting for these species continues, they said. One charter boat captain put the disparity in stark contrast: “Anglers are leaving our state to catch our state fish.” The committee chairman publicly acknowledged another charter boat captain’s call to pay it forward so that his baby girl would have a chance to catch a redfish if she wants to when she gets older.

A recreational fisherman spoke about witnessing the decimation of the local fresh water herring fishery at the hands of mismanaged commercial fishing and the fear that the same could happen for these three species. He noted that aquaculture and other programs have made these species available to the public in seafood stores and restaurants in states where gamefish laws are in place.

Perhaps most poignantly, he touched on why recreational angling has such a universal appeal: “Angling is done to experience a moment between man and fish that cannot be duplicated. A moment so addictive, that thousands upon thousands seek it over and over, and pay to do it. Parents share it with their children. It is our heritage. The virtual world cannot duplicate it and it’s not available as an App on an iPad.”

At the end of the hearing, many of the recreational fishermen expressed confidence in having delivered a strong, united message that this bill would be an economic benefit by attracting more tourism dollars and making an economic engine even stronger. Representatives of the commercial side quietly expressed concern about the bill’s momentum before and after the hearing.

The Legislative Research Commission Committee on Marine Fisheries will discuss the issue again in March with no public comment. The stakes are high enough that both recreational and commercial fishing interests will likely be back.

4 thoughts on “Recreational and Commercial Fishermen Speak Out on N.C. Gamefish Bill

  1. Kenneth Seigler

    Colles, feel you may be misleading the point of whom is in truth and reality catching and killing the vast majority of the three fish proposed for game fish status.

    In a five year data spread (2004 thru 2009)

    Striped Bass – Rec. harvest 12.5 million pounds, commercial harvest was 3.3 million pounds. Commericial harvest is capped at 480,480 pounds per season. There is no such cap on recreational harvest, So even though rec. may only harvest 2 fish per person per day there is no limit to the number of days those 2 fish may be harvest. The result is recreationals harvested 9 million pounds more fish during the same time period as commercials.

    Speckled Trout – Same time period 2004 thru 2009
    Recreational harvest 4.6 million pounds.
    Commercial harvest 1.5 million pounds.
    Yes, that is three recreational fish harvest VX. 1 commercial fish.

    Red drum – Again, same time period 2004 thru 2009
    Recreational harvest 1.5 million pounds
    Commercial harvest 1 million pounds.

    If the issue is centered on “protecting the fish”, fishing mortality rate in much higher across the board in the recreational fishery opposed to the commercial fishery.

    This problem comes to light when you consider the catch and release senario proposed. When a boat with 4 recreational fisherman locates and targets a school of say red drum, there are are often as 60 or more fish caught and released.

    The heart of the problem is 10% of the released fish die as a result of the encounter. With a 1 fish bag limit, the 4 recreational fishermen keep 1 fish each. With a 10% fishing mortality rate, 6 of the released fish will die. This small group of recreational fishermen has infact killed more fish in releasing them than they we legally allowed to keep and take home to eat.

    The problem with commercials is they are forced to through back fish they catch simple because of outdated rules. In 2008, I sat on the Red Drum FMP Committee and the SPR (health of the fishery) was at 39.5% recovered. In March of 2011 the SPR was 45.6% and growing. The target for noting the fishery as recovered is 40%. All of these gains have been achieved while both user groups are fishing, so what is the point of eliminating one user group and allowing another to catch all the fish if that fishery continues to grow and expand, without any outside influences such hatcheries if I might add.

    So lets now look at what took place in Florida and see if we can determine what exactly the truth is with respect to that red drum fishery.

    In 1987, the red drum fishery in Florida and every other state was closed by federal intervention. As soon as this occured the Florida red drum fishery immediately began to recover.

    In 1988, red drum were declared “not” gamefish in Florida, because there is no such designation in Florida. The fish may not be bought or sold, but they do not have a “gamefish designation”.

    By 1991, Florida red drum population had an SPR value of 79%, a very healthy stock of fish to say none the least.

    In 1991, Florida was allowed to reopen it red drum fishery. Keep in mind there has not been a commercial caught or landed red drum in the state of Florida since 1988, and nets continued to be fished thru 1991 when that fishery reopened to recreational harvest.

    In 1994, nets were banned in the state of Florida, because CCA pointed the finger at nets as being cause of red drum population declines of approximately 20% in SPR value between the time period 1991 to 1994, even though truthfully and factually there had not been a single commercial harvested or landed drum in Florida since 1988.

    So, here is the point of this exercise. What caused the declines in Florida red drum stocks between 1994 and 2004. Pay close attention now because there are no nets allowed in Florida waters, so CCA can no longer point the fingers at nets as being the cause can they?

    The simple fact of the matter is recreational overharvest in conjunction with catch and release mortality is what wiped out the Florida red drum population between 1991 and 2004.

    “Recreational Exploitation” is the term you are looking for. It has happened many times in may states. Every wonder why recreational bag limits and federal quotas on fish like flounder, red snapper, grouper and many others continue to be reduced year after year.

    Its because the recreational fisheries have no season quota’s attached, and results in a “free for all” with no limitations other than a daily creel. So what you end up with is 1 fish bag limit 365 days a year and no annual quota.

    If you don’t think the recreational sector can overharvest a fishery with a 1 fish bag limit, I invite you to view a graph taken from the Florida Red Drum fishery management plan as see the proof for yourself.!/view.aspx?cid=546D30065D9251C2&resid=546D30065D9251C2%21157

    Nets are not the problem with our fisheries, overharest is the problem and until recreational harvest is brought under control with an annual quota, the problem will persist and CCA will continue to point fingers at the group taking the least amount fish, using commercials as scape goats to acquire a 100% allocation of all fish while leaving the non-fishing public high and dry with no fish.


  2. Fiona

    It’s interesting that the commercial fisherman were un-organised in comparison to the recreational fishermen, with seemingly more at stake you’d assume a larger representation and better execution of such a hearing. Either way, it’s good news for eco-friendly fishing and sustainable waters & well done to those fishermen that stated their case so well.

  3. Heather

    “Per user Impact” Really? Commercial fishermen fish for the public. Recreational fishermen fish for themselves. “Per user impact is not a valid argument. How many households and restaurants get their fish from commercial fishermen? All of the besides those 800,000 recreational fishermen you site. And I’ll bet at least a few of them enjoy a good seafood meal at home or at a restaurant, too. One commercial fisherman does not equal one consumer. One recreational fisherman, who by law retains the fish he catches for his own personal use equals one consumer.


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