Net Effect: A different tack

Posted October 22, 2015 7:00 p.m. EDT
Updated October 26, 2015 9:23 a.m. EDT

Most of the media coverage of the commercial fishing industry that I’ve seen in North Carolina over the years has celebrated the industry as an important part of North Carolina’s heritage and economy. It’s been empathetic to the challenges the industry has faced over the years from higher fuel prices to competition from cheaper imported seafood. Our 2008 documentary “Net Loss” was just that.

Our new WRAL documentary takes a different tack. It’s the result of a growing chorus of recreational fishermen, associated organizations and environmental groups that have raised legitimate concerns about certain commercial fishing practices. They practically beat down our door, giving us information, showing us data and offering up experts to interview. Their concerns are backed up by a number of state officials, including a scientist. The concerns surround anchored gill nets and the use of large shrimp trawlers in North Carolina’s inshore waters, which critics say are depleting populations of certain species of fish. Those practices are banned by most other states.

No one can blame commercial fishermen for doing what they are legally allowed to do to make a living. No one can blame them for being concerned about losing their livelihoods because of more regulations. Their concerns are important too and are included in the documentary. But the fish in our sounds, bays and rivers belong to all of us and if they’re populations are depleted we all lose, including both recreational and commercial fishermen.

In all my years as a journalist I don’t think I’ve covered a more contentious issue. And in the decades of debate over the issue that contentiousness has clearly not gotten our state anywhere. Certainly there are solutions, like the state offering financial incentives to fishermen to switch to more sustainable fishing methods, to subsidizing those hurt financially by the state’s own restrictions. It’s time for all sides to start talking about what can be done, instead of only focusing on what can’t be.