Legislative Session Update: April 13th, 2021

From CCA NC Executive Director, David Sneed
The 2020 long session at our General Assembly has started to heat up just as the weather itself is starting to see hotter temperatures. There should be some interesting days ahead.

House Bill 513 – Peoples’ Choice For Marine Sources – was filed late last week by Representatives Billy Richardson and Marvin Lucas (both representing Cumberland County) and upon passing First Reading it was assigned to the House Rules Committee chaired by Rep. Destin Hall (Caldwell). If the bill passes, it will place the question of whether North Carolina should limit marine net fishing on the ballot during the general election in November 2022. If approved by a vote of the public in November 2022, it would become unlawful to use a gill net or other entangling net, including trawl nets, in coastal fishing waters for the purpose of catching or taking any saltwater finfish, shellfish, or other marine animals. CCA NC wholeheartedly supports the idea of a net referendum bill, and we thank Reps. Richardson and Lucas for introducing this legislation.

Entanglement gill nets are highly destructive and unsustainable gears. Shrimp trawls kill hundreds of millions of juvenile finfish as bycatch in their nets every year leading to the depletion of our coastal fish stocks. Removing unsustainable and highly destructive gears from coastal waters creates a healthy resource that like a rising tide, floats all boats. The citizens of NC should be allowed the opportunity through a statewide referendum to voice their support for ending the destruction so that a rebuilding of our public trust resources can take place to be enjoyed by all North Carolinians including our future generations.

Rep. Richardson also introduced House Bill 518 – Temporarily Waive Commercial Fishing Fees – with Reps. Goodwin (Bertie, Camden, Chowan, et. al.), Hanig (Currituck, Dare, Hyde, Pamlico) and Wray (Halifax, Northampton) as cosponsors. The bill is part of a wave of Covid relief efforts that waived fees on small business, for example, ABC permits for restaurants and bars, to provide some financial relief as they attempt to return to more normal business operations. The lost revenue for the departments where fees will be waived will be offset by the appropriation of federal relief monies. We have contacted the bill sponsors about why the recreational for-hire guide community was not included in this relief bill. These members of the fishing industry have also suffered economic loss during the coronavirus pandemic and these small-business owners are now just starting to rebuild their businesses as the multi-billion-dollar coastal tourism economy starts to reopen.

In 2020, there were 568 for-hire licenses issued at the six passengers or fewer level ($250 each = $142,000 license revenue) and 30 licenses issued at the six passengers or greater level ($350 each = $10,500) for total license revenue of $152,500. A very minor request given the magnitude of the pandemic but a meaningful assistance to these working men and women.

Senate Bill 296 – Collaboratory/Fisheries Study – passed the Senate unanimously and now resides in the House Rules Committee. This bill asks the North Carolina Policy Collaboratory (Collaboratory) at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill to conduct yet another study on the overall status of the coastal and marine fisheries regulated by the State. Conspicuously missing from the list of specific species to be studied are Spot, Croaker and Weakfish, the top three species identified as being killed in shrimp trawl bycatch and severely depleted species. The bill directs the study to be returned no later than December 2022.

Senate Bill 317 – Marine Fisheries Reform – sponsored by Sen. Norman Sanderson also passed the Senate with little opposition and is also currently in the House Rules Committee. This bill is a rehashing of a similar bill filed in 2019 that seeks to remove the policy-making authority of the MFC and give more power to the Division of Marine Fisheries, and specifically the Director, to make fisheries policy decisions. The Senate ignored the concerns of stakeholders in their attempt to push a narrow agenda under the guise of bipartisan support. Sen. Sanderson was quoted in the Coastal Review online stating, “most of Senate Bill 317, which adopts a new set of procedures for developing fishery management plans and expands inspection authority, was requested by the Division of Marine Fisheries.”

Rep. Larry Yarborough had his own message for legislators regarding SB317 stating, “It is clear that the Fisheries Reform Act has been a dismal failure, but the solution is not to give more authority to the department that has been the most responsible for this failure.”

Without consideration of input on needed fisheries management reform from all stakeholders, including the conservation and recreational fishing communities, CCA NC will continue to oppose this bill as written as it does little to improve the current condition of our state managed fish stocks. We remain available to provide input on how a true marine fisheries reform bill could be crafted to help insure our coastal public trust resources are available for the use and enjoyment of future generations of North Carolinians.

You are encouraged to contact your state representatives to provide your own comments of support or opposition to these bills. Bills that you support will not move unless legislators hear from their constituents back home. Same will be applied to bills you may oppose; your representative will only know of opposition among his constituents if he or she hears from you. A link to the NCGA website where you can find the email address and phone number to your representative can be found here: House Members 2021-2022 Session – North Carolina General Assembly (ncleg.gov)

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