Anglers argue over NC's definition of gamefish
Posted February 2, 2012
Raleigh, N.C. — 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.
"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.”