Raleigh, N.C. — The long-running battle between commercial and recreational fishermen moved Tuesday to Raleigh, where both sides and lawmakers parried with their poles and nets over a proposal to put more regulations on commercial fishing along the North Carolina coast.
House Bill 867 puts fisheries conservation and management at the core of the state Marine Fisheries Commission's duties. It also eliminates the concept of a "sustainable harvest" by commercial fishermen and says fishing stock must be managed scientifically to ensure species aren't overfished.
"Strike the word 'conservation' and replace it with 'allocation,'" Glen Skinner, a Carteret County commercial fisherman, told members of the House Committee on Wildlife Resources. "This is about reallocating resources from one to the next."
"This is not about conservation," said Pam Morris, president of Carteret Catch, which promotes local seafood and fishermen. "This is a power grab by some to further control fisheries."
"Environment produces my fish, not regulations," said Terry Pratt, president of the Albemarle Fishermen's Association.
The commercial side disputed the notion that fish stocks along the coast are declining, with state Rep. Beverly Boswell, R-Dare, pointing to a record shrimp harvest in recent years.
Others said, however, the proposed regulations would ensure quality fishing in North Carolina for generations to come. Other states in the Southeast and along the Gulf Coast have enacted similar rules over the years, they said.
"We have to make an investment in the resource and bring it to a level that everyone can enjoy," said Allen Gant, chairman of North Carolina Sound Economy, which advocates for protecting coastal fisheries.
Bill sponsor Rep. Larry Yarborough, R-Person, said that even though he has a North Carolina fishing license, he travels to Louisiana or Georgia to fish because he can catch more fish there.
"North Carolina is suffering dwindling resources," Yarborough said, scoffing at the notion that the legislation would put commercial fishermen out of business. "Commercial fishing isn't going away."
The anger in the room quickly spread to lawmakers.
"This is a horrible, horrible bill," Boswell said. "We'll be on Medicaid, unemployment and food stamps [in coastal communities] if this passes."
Rep. Michael Speciale, R-Craven, said the suggestion that fish stocks are in danger is based solely on anecdotal evidence from recreational fishermen like Yarborough who complain they can't catch as much as they used to.
"Where's the science?" Speciale demanded.
Rep. Ted Davis, R-New Hanover, another bill sponsor, said he hopes the proposed legislation, which wasn't voted on Tuesday, will bring the warring sides to the table to negotiate a solution.
"I'm sick and tired of seeing the recreational and the commercial fishermen not being able to agree on the time of day or the color of the sky," Davis said. "Something needs to be done."