Let 'em Spawn: Agenda Driven Ploy VOTE NO
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This past week NC House Bill 483 passed in the North Carolina House of Representatives by a vote of 58-54 in the first reading and 58-47 in the second reading. The submission of this bill has been sold to the public as a “common sense” management strategy. However, this bill lacks the common knowledge of the diversity of the fisheries and economics in the great state of North Carolina. To our knowledge, no public meetings were held in coastal communities prior to the submission of this bill. This bill is set to manage a shared public trust resource, however, common sense would tell you to get as much public input prior to submitting this bill. Yet the organizations pushing this bill did not seek the public’s opinion during the early life stages of this bill. Further evidence of this purposeful exclusion of the people or stakeholders in the management of our shared resource came in an email from the CCA that stated, “For the past 6 months..” they had been working closely with the NC Wildlife Federation on this bill.
Per federal catch estimates, North Carolina ranks #2 in fish landings for the recreational sector along the east coast of the United States. The state’s coastal communities are home to dozens of “Mom & Pop” tackle shops, industry leading lure and tackle manufacturers, and numerous world renowned charter fishing fleets. North Carolina also has a rich history of boat building and commercial fishing heritage. It is known that a large majority of the fish caught on various head boat operations along our coast are the ones being targeted by this bill. It doesn’t take science but if you use “common sense,” this bill can and will end all success for these types of boats which are used by thousands of residents and visitors each year. There is science, in fact, that shows areas in our sounds are where smaller fish live. Only removing humans from harvesting (taking home for bait or for food) is not a cure all. It will not make an area where younger fish inhabit change.
HB 483 would mandate the Division of Marine Fisheries, the Marine Fisheries Commission, and/or the director of the MFC to put either a size limit that is equal to 75% of the stock being sexually mature or a slot limit on “important” recreational and commercial fish. Striped Mullet, Bluefish, Spot, Croaker, Southern Flounder and 3 species of Kingfishes (aka Sea Mullet or Whiting) are listed in the Bill. However, it is important to note that it is not limited only to those species of fish. No size limits are listed in HB 483 for those fish listed. This Bill does not in any way cover all of the influences that impact fish abundance, such as habitat loss, storms, and effort shifts due to regulations.
Simply put, this Bill points the finger at anyone and everyone that fishes in North Carolina waters and them ONLY. So we say VOTE NO OR VETO!!
Striped mullet is a prized recreational bait fish for pier, surf, and are also often used as a teaser and dredge baits for billfish. A number of fisheries in this state rely heavily on the use of striped mullet as a bait source that would fall below the proposed size restrictions. This would be a devastating blow to tackle shops up and down the coast, especially those that cater to surf fishing tournaments, some of which include over 600 anglers, on Hatteras Island, Ocracoke Island and Topsail Beach. These shops rely heavily on those bait sales during the fall months because it helps make up for the decrease in sales that comes after the peak tourist season in the summer months. In addition to surf fishing tournaments, numerous billfish tournaments along the coast such as the Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament utilize striped mullet during the tournament. Those tackle shops and fishermen would be extremely disadvantaged, in addition to the fishermen that make a living off these species via providing them to the tackle shops and fishermen themselves.
In the state of North Carolina there are two species of “jumping” mullets that inhabit the waterways— Silver and Striped Mullet. There are also three species of flounders—Southern, Summer, and Gulf—and current proposed regulations will close ALL recreational harvest of ANY flounder even when Summer flounder are not overfished and overfishing is not occurring. Until recent efforts exposed the short sighted portions of this Bill , one being striped mullet and its recreations on bait use and resulting economic importance to tackle shops, the position the authoring organizations took were to simply use something else, like soft plastics. Flounder is a tell all and the current flounder proposal has the same organizations influencing them as are behind this Bill. So again, we say VOTE NO OR VETO!!
North Carolina’s coastline is also home to one of the best fall spot fisheries on the east coast. Piers along the coastline from Nags Head to Wilmington attract hordes of anglers from all reaches of the state and neighboring states. Many of these anglers can only afford to make that trip once or a handful of times to target these fish. When they come to the coast, they spend money in the local businesses such as tackle shops, restaurants, lodging, fishing piers and a wealth of other businesses. Their impact has a trickle down effect with, most importantly, the bait suppliers to those tackle shops that provide bloodworms, shrimp, etc. Many of the fishing piers will tell you that the spot runs are vital to their yearly sales and that it does not matter if they are yellow belly or 5 inches.
We have seen a shift in talking points from supporters of this Bill that seem to be aimed towards easing the fear of being able to use the listed species as bait. Recent actions by the NCMFC has led us to have little faith in their ability to listen to and/or act on any level of public input in the management of our shared public trust. Thus, any attempt to say that MFC or the Division can “fix” any bait use or sales after the Bill passes does not hold water with the public. The MFC and the organizations who got them appointed have made that clear every time they ignored the vast majority of public comments against a proposed regulatory action.
The question a recreational angler in the state of NC should ask is, “Who is truly looking out for our best interests in our share of the public trust?” Our side of the table is basically a grassroots effort led by a few individuals that actually understand the economic impact this will lead to in terms of the fishing populations, tackle shops, lodging, restaurants, marinas, and any other business that supports tourism in coastal North Carolina. One should ask themselves, “Why are the majority of the people representing North Carolinians who voted in favor of this bill coming from the western part of the state?”
It is time the silent majority are silent no more! It is time to pull up a seat at the table to ensure the true recreational voice is being heard. It is time to protect our access to our shared public resource. It is time we demand special interests to stop “giving up” our access just so it appears “fair” when they take away certain commercial gear. It is time the mom and pop tackle shops, the small boat builders, welders, lure makers, bait dealers, rod builders, pier owners, marinas, and all other support businesses to the recreational sector speak up and make their voices heard.
In conclusion, the “Let ’em Spawn Bill” now goes to the Senate. We view it as one of the biggest public trust grabs shielded by the cloak of “conservation” done in this state. Supporters claims this Bill is just the “first step” in their vision of how NC fisheries should be managed. We ask you sign this petition and let them know their “first step” shall not tread on us and send a clear message to our Senators and our Governor to VOTE NO OR VETO.
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