Legislative Session Update: May 26th, 2021

From CCA NC Executive Director, David Sneed

2021 – 2022 General Assembly Coastal Fisheries Bills

House Bill 513 – Peoples’ Choice For Marine Sources – sponsored by Representatives Billy Richardson, Marvin Lucas and Larry Yarborough was assigned to the House Rules Committee on April 12th and absent a groundswell of public support, the bill is not likely to move this session. The bill seeks to 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, Lucas and Yarborough 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 bill received a favorable report from the Marine Resources and Aquaculture Committee and was sent to the Finance Committee. We contacted the bill sponsors about why the recreational for-hire guide community was not included in this relief bill but the Chairman of the Marine Resources Committee, Rep. Bobby Hanig (Currituck), did not want the bill amended and instead pledged to introduce a separate bill to waive the license fees for For-Hire Guides.

The Finance Committee will no doubt take a little closer look at the financial side of this bill than the Marine Resources Committee discussion. A review of the number of Standard Commercial Fishing License (SCFL) holders shows that 66% of SCFL fishermen did not report landings in 2020. Without reported catch, this means that over half of the SCFL holders do not use their licenses to make a living, yet they will still be granted a waiver on their annual license fee for the privilege to harvest a public trust resource for the next 12 months. The lost revenue to the Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) will come from the state’s general operating funds meaning the state’s taxpayers will pay the license fees for commercial fishermen to harvest a public trust resource. Estimates are that this waiver will cost NC taxpayers around $2.5 million dollars with over $1.5 million of that total going to subsidize the license fees for fishermen that are not using the license to make a living.

In 2019, commercial fishermen received over $12 million in Hurricane Florence assistance money and the DMF reported they have just completed distribution of an additional $7.7 million in federal Hurricane Florence disaster assistance to commercial fishermen, dealers, processors, for-hire guides and other fishing related businesses. Under the federal CARES Act I, DMF has allocated another $5.4 million in financial assistance for Covid related losses to 197 commercial fishermen, dealers, processors and for-hire guides. DMF is currently developing a separate spending plan for CARES Act II assistance that will provide another $4.6 million to NC fishing related businesses.


Senate Bill 296 – Collaboratory/Fisheries Study – passed the Senate unanimously but it has not moved from 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. What will another study do to improve our declining fish stocks when full Fisheries Management Plans, including stock status reports, already exist at the DMF for all of the species listed in this bill? You can find that information on the DMF website: NCDEQ – FMPs Under Development and Completed (ncdenr.org)


Senate Bill 317 – Marine Fisheries Reform – sponsored by Sen. Norman Sanderson also passed the Senate with little opposition and has also not moved from 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.


House Bill 281 – Loggerhead Turtle/State Saltwater Reptile – passed the House on Thursday and was sent to the Senate for their consideration. The bill seeks to adopt the loggerhead sea turtle as the official saltwater reptile of the state of North Carolina. Ironically, the bill offers no additional protection for the sea turtles and legislators continue to ignore the fact that North Carolina remains the only state in the country that maintains a federal Incidental Take Permit (ITP) that allows the turtles to be killed in the commercial gill net fishery.

Because areas where Southern flounder are harvested are also those areas where juvenile seas turtles feed, large-mesh gillnets take at least hundreds of sea turtles annually, entrapping and drowning them unless they are manually released from the nets. All species of sea turtles are protected under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA). Because of the sea turtle issue, the National Marine Fisheries Service halted the Southern flounder fishery in all or parts of the state on numerous occasions in the 1990s where DMF impermissibly allowed the take of protected species not specifically authorized under the ESA.

Rather than seek to protect sea turtles as required by law, DMF’s unfortunate response was instead to seek to protect commercial fishing interests. DMF did so by applying, at great expense to the state and in a process that took years to complete, for a statewide federal permit on behalf of commercial fishermen that allows commercial gillnetters to take a specified number of sea turtles, differentiated by species and management area. Under the ESA, such a permit is termed an incidental take permit (ITP).

House Bill 281 is little more than a feel-good bill that does nothing to protect and conserve this endangered species. Hopefully, legislators, and coastal legislators in particular, will take the time to educate themselves on the duplicity of maintaining an Incidental Take Permit that allows loggerhead sea turtles to be killed in the large-mesh gill net fishery while promoting them as our state saltwater reptile back home in their districts.


House Bill 894 – Rebuild Southern Flounder Stocks – filed by Reps. Yarborough, Saine, Bell and Cunningham and a bipartisan group of cosponsors on May 5th. The bill highlights the plight of fisheries management in North Carolina by proposing specific regulatory changes in the management of the poster fish for poor management, Southern flounder, to include a slot limit of 12” – 18” for harvest and set the total allowable landings of Southern Flounder in a year at 532,352 pounds from the commercial and recreational sectors combined until a new stock assessment indicates that harvest can be increased. Total allowable landings for each sector must account for discards in all fisheries that interact with Southern Flounder, and quota overages in one year for a sector must be remedied with a sector reduction in the next year.

The draft for the update of the Southern Flounder Fisheries Management Plan also considers these options for the next FMP currently under development by the DMF and MFC.

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