Local News

Bill To Give State Marine Patrols Authority To Enforce Federal Waters

Posted April 8, 2004

— The supply of fish along the North Carolina coast is running low. Nine different species are caught faster than they can reproduce, according to the state.

Part of the problem may be overzealous fishermen who break state and federal laws. Now, state officials say it is time to reel them in.

"There is a minimal amount of enforcement in that regard, but it's totally inadequate compared to what is necessary," said Preston Pate, director of the

state Division of Marine Fisheries

.

State marine fisheries officials say when it comes to federal waters 3 miles off the North Carolina coast, their hands are tied. Only federal inspectors are allowed to check out-of-state boats for proper equipment and legal catches.

Even within state waters, state officials have no jurisdiction over federally regulated fish like bluefin tuna.

If the federal government is not doing enough, some say the state should step in and help.

A legislative commission passed a bill Wednesday that gives state marine patrols the authority to enforce federal laws.

"Whether it's an out-of-state boat or an in-state boat, federal law or state law, if they see someone breaking the law, they ought to be able to put a stop to it," said Lawrence Davis, a recreational fisherman.

To do this, the state will get federal money -- as much as a $1.5 million over three years.

"What's the old saying? It's time to fish or cut bait?" said committee chair Sen. Charles Albertson.

The commission barely approved the bill, despite concerns of commercial fishermen who say it will not solve the problem.

"The problem is the complexity of the regulations that nobody really understands," commercial fisherman Terry Pratt said.

Supporters say with greater enforcement, maybe they finally will.

Of all the coastal states in the country, North Carolina and Delaware are the only two that do not have an agreement with the federal government.

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