Anglers argue over NC's definition of gamefish

Posted February 2, 2012

— Commercial and recreational fishermen faced off before lawmakers on Thursday in a battle over whether commercial operations will be able to go after three species of fish in North Carolina's waters.

Recreational anglers want the state to classify striped bass, spotted sea trout and red drum as gamefish, meaning no one could legally catch them for commercial sale. If the bill passes, those fish could be caught only with a hook and line for personal consumption.

All three fish are big business in North Carolina, and stocks of all three have been low for years.

Jamie Reibel, who makes his living plying the waters off Manteo as a commercial fisherman, said making the three species gamefish wouldn't change the state of North Carolina's fisheries. Commercial operations already face tight catch limits on those fish, but recreational fishermen don’t, he said.

"The recreational fisherman catch 75 percent of these three species. Commercial fishermen catch 25 percent of these species," Reibel said. "They want that other 25 percent to go to the recreational fisherman, which doesn’t sound very fair.”

Sean McKeon, president of the North Carolina Fisheries Association, said the three fish belong to everyone, including those who make a living putting fish on other people’s tables.

"You are being asked to take a group of people and put them out of work, or at least take a large part of their income away, in order that others may come down to the coast and enjoy recreational sport,” McKeon told members of the Joint Legislative Committee on Marine Fisheries.

The committee took no action Thursday, but it could recommend changes to the state's fisheries law for the General Assembly to consider in the legislative session that starts in May.

“Saltwater Catch” radio show host Bill Hitchcock said the bill also would also hurt consumers who won’t be able to buy red drum, spotted trout or striped bass anymore.

Fisherman, fishing Fishermen cross poles at legislature

"Ninety-five percent of the people in North Carolina don’t fish. It’s a public trust resource,” Hitchcock said.

Advocates for recreational fishing say it isn’t just a sport, it’s a big business, from fishing charters and rentals to retail.

Chris Medlin, whose family has run a tackle shop on Topsail Island for three generations, said business is hurting because fishermen are going to other states where the catch is better.

"My children and me have been fed off recreational fishing dollars for 50 years, but with the state of our fishery and the health of other states’ fisheries, we’re in danger," Medlin told lawmakers.

Wilmington fishing guide Seth Vernon said North Carolina’s fishery has been pushed to the brink. This is one of the only states that still allows gill nets and trawlers on inshore waters, and he said the huge nets tear up the waterways and kill thousands of fish at a time just to get to the profitable ones.

"We have a commercial fishery that’s vibrant, and we want to see that persist, but in their efforts to catch a certain number of fish, the overkill is excessive," Vernon said.

The state Marine Fisheries Commission doesn’t support the gamefish bill. Director Louis Daniel said it’s inconsistent with the agency's mission, which is “to protect and enhance the marine resources of North Carolina for the benefit of all our citizens.”


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  • ccsII Feb 7, 2012

    I attended this hearing and emotions are high. It's not just commercial fishermen whose livelihoods depend on the resource. Charter boat captains, tackle shops, marinas, local restaurants, hotels, etc. also benefit from red drum, speckled trout and stripers. It's interesting that North Carolina and Mississippi are the only two Southeastern states that still allow gill nets for these species, while the fisheries are better in the other states. These states have not repealed gill net bans because the commercial fishermen adapted. Here is a link to a blog about this issue: http://blog.greenfishmovement.com/2012/02/recreational-and-commercial-fishermen-speak-out-on-n-c-gamefish-bill/

  • wmhs Feb 6, 2012

    brcrksfd,,, I have watched first hand the damage caused by gill nets on the neuse. Do you know where the numbers you reference come from? As stated below that number is reported catch not what is really caught and killed then dumped back in the water. and yes its a NC puplic resourse, but its sold to other states not in NC. Look at it this way, what would happen if deer was made a commercial harvest? or maybe ducks or goose? this is all puplic resource why not have comm harvest? I anwser because it would wipe out the resource. Bottom line you take puplic property and allow a few to profit from all our resources,while destroying the nursery area and small fish just to get there money at every one elses loss,,, When the wildlife is gone its gone forever. PS try to find some wild caught red drum or Speckled Trout in a grocery store in nc, good luck cause you wont find it, they sell nc fish to states with game fish status like LA and SC.

  • dumbhick Feb 6, 2012

    To say that commercial fishermen only "take" 25% of the fish is at best misleading. They may only bring 25% to the market, but they kill many more fish than they bring in. An undersized hook caught fish can be released to live another day. The under-limit fish caught in nets are most often tossed back dead. If we are going to continue to allow netting we should at least allow the netters to keep what they catch. How much sense does it make to "release" dead fish?

    Another point on the 25% statement. Commercial fishermen quite often claim that there is no data to support purposed regulation, but they constantly repeat the 25% catch statistic as accepted fact. If the data isn't there where do their numbers come from? "Science" is only "good science" when it supports my view.

  • brcrksfd Feb 3, 2012

    Wake up fellas, these are public reasources and 75% of those fish are being taken by hook-n-line representing 3% of the states population. Commercials are only taking 25% of those fish to feed 97% of the population. Know the truth and facts, paste this in your browser.

  • ford8n1 Feb 3, 2012

    As our oceans are fished out those species who deserve our conservation should and must be protected. If that may involve fish farms more in the future so be it. Recreational fishing is important but we must be ever vigilant to protect our commercial fishing. However, with that said bottom trawling with those huge nets has to go as everything is in the bag and what may be left for future generations-nothing. If the fish in question are in danger-put them on the protected list as we must and should protect these species for future generations...

  • ConcernedNCC Feb 3, 2012

    Reibel certainly contradicts himself as to whether the fish are needed commercially or not.

  • wmhs Feb 3, 2012

    The comment on same issue in florida and comms still made a living, well were do you think they came to,, yes NC. we are one of the only states to allow gill nets in inside waters and not only that we let recs do it to with RCGL. I have watched teh fish vanish from nc and it is a sad thing. This gamefish issue is because they couldnt get a net ban which is what should really happen. but greed and money will always trump logic.. Public resource benefiting a very few that sell this resource to NY and NJ.

  • haggis basher Feb 3, 2012

    "If they belong to everyone, then what right have they to to kill them for personal profit?"

    cursed typos

  • haggis basher Feb 3, 2012

    "Sean McKeon, president of the North Carolina Fisheries Association, said the three fish belong to everyone, including those who make a living putting fish on other people’s tables."

    If they belong to everyone then what right have to to kill them sfor personal profit?

  • topsynturvy Feb 3, 2012

    I am NOT a commercial fisherman but I say NO to gamefish status. What we need are regulations that do not promote waste. We also need reasonable regulations for recreational fisherman. Most current regulations are not based upon good data or and are not based upon local stocks for fish that don't migrate long distances. In fact, I gurantee you that game fish status will result in a loss for all. Fix the regulatory process.