Why is CCA NC suing the State of North Carolina?

First, the lawsuit is not being brought by CCA NC alone. CCA NC is joined by 86 individual citizen co-plaintiffs who, like CCA NC, can no longer stand by and allow the destruction of our public-trust coastal fisheries resources from the State’s failure to manage them properly. CCA has tried for many years to raise awareness concerning the longstanding, poor state of many North Carolina coastal fish stocks. The problems, their causes, and potential remedies are all identifiable. Some of those coastal fish stocks have diminished to the point their numbers cannot currently support ANY harvest. That result is not just unthinkable, it is unconscionable. At this point, there was no other option but to bring a lawsuit to hold the State accountable for failing to uphold its legal duty to citizens, and allowing commercial overexploitation and severe wastage of public-trust fisheries resources, thereby substantially impairing the public’s legal right to use those resources.

What are the plaintiffs asking the court to do?

We are seeking an order declaring that the State has breached its obligations to the plaintiffs and the public under the public-trust doctrine and the State Constitution in failing to properly manage coastal fish stocks, as well as a permanent injunction to stop the State from committing further breaches of those obligations.

You mentioned the public trust doctrine in the above answer—what is that?

The public trust doctrine is a legal doctrine that is as old as the State itself, and the people of North Carolina have ratified it as a permanent part of their State Constitution. The public-trust doctrine imposes a legal duty on the State to hold and manage in trust, for the benefit of its current and future citizens, all of North Carolina’s public-trust resources. These public-trust resources include all navigable waters, including those in North Carolina’s coastal regions, as well as the lands they submerge. These public-trust resources also include the public’s use of those navigable waters, including the public’s right to navigate those waters and fish for personal use and enjoyment. And these public-trust resources include the fish that swim in those public waters, which the State holds in trust for the benefit of all North Carolinians.

The commercial fishing industry has said that CCA NC’s purpose is to ban the commercial use of nets in North Carolina. Is this lawsuit really about ”getting the nets out of the water?”

No. This lawsuit is about is about so much more than nets, although the State’s promotion of extensive estuarine shrimp trawling and the proliferation of unattended gillnets in North Carolina’s coastal waters serves as a poignant example of the State’s failure to protect coastal fisheries resources from incredible amounts of resource wastage. After all, North Carolina is the only southeastern state that continues to allow shrimp trawling or substantial gillnet use in its estuarine waters. But wastage is a symptom of resource mismanagement, not the cause. More fundamentally, the suit is about the State’s failure to uphold its obligations to properly manage coastal fish stocks to ensure their long-term “viability”—the term that state law uses to assess coastal fish stocks. To the extent that the State can fully meet its legal obligation to protect citizens’ public-trust rights while allowing the continued commercial use of nets, nets can continue to be used in North Carolina.

Is this an attack on the commercial fishing industry?

No. State mismanagement of North Carolina’s public-trust fisheries resources is the root cause of the demise of those resources, and that fact cannot be overstated. The inappropriate use of commercial gears and allowance of commercial overharvest, both fully supported by the State, have been the catalysts for much of the demise of coastal fisheries resources. But commercial fishing license holders have, for the most part, only done what the State has allowed them to do. If the State had not allowed them to overharvest and extensively waste public-trust fisheries resources, they wouldn’t have done it. Thus, it is the State that must be held accountable.

Would the lawsuit ultimately put the commercial fishing industry out of business?

No. When coastal fish stocks are badly mismanaged, the stocks dwindle to the point where there are no fish for anyone to harvest, and that goes for commercial fishermen as well. There is currently a moratorium on the harvest of River Herring statewide, a moratorium for Striped Bass in a large portion of the State, and an almost certain statewide fishing moratorium on Southern Flounder soon to come. All of those fish stocks have declined to this point because of the State’s mismanagement, and all of these fish are important to commercial fishermen. So poor management greatly affects the commercial fishing industry, as well as the fishing public. The truth is that if our coastal fish stocks were appropriately managed in the way we are seeking in this lawsuit, and as required by law, there would be more fish for everybody to harvest, including the commercial fishing industry.

I would like to help CCA NC in its fight for sustainable fishing in North Carolina coastal waters. What can I do to help?

There are at least three ways you can assist in this fight.

First, you can contribute to the legal fund for this lawsuit. 100% of your contribution will go toward funding the legal costs of the lawsuit.

Second, you can potentially join the lawsuit as a co-plaintiff. While there are rules that must be followed, any state citizen who fishes on the coast, or any environmental non-profit organization, public saltwater fishing organization, or environmental justice organization that operates in North Carolina and has in interest in halting the demise of state public-trust fisheries resources is welcome to join our lawsuit. To find out more about joining the suit, contact David Sneed at david@ccanc.org.

Third, you can become a member of CCA NC by clicking the “join CCANC” button at the top of the page, joining with other conservationists to solidify the voice for change with respect to responsible public fisheries resource management.


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