Senate will sit on “Let ’em Spawn” bill

As the General Assembly winds down its business for the current long session, no additio
nal action has been taken on House Bill 483, Let Them Spawn. The bill passed the House and was sent to the Senate on June 21st. It was originally referred from the Senate Rules Com

mittee to the Senate Agriculture, Environment and Natural Resources Committee but Committee Co-Chair Andy Wells indicated they would not have time to hear the bill this session.
It will remain in the Senate Rules Committee queue for consideration during future sessions through 2020. The essence of the proposal set forth in HB 483 is to establish a minimum size limit for six historically significant marine fisheries species to ensure that 75% of the juvenile fish at that size have reached maturity and have the opportunity to spawn at least once.

We still agree that HB 483 is “a common-sense starting point for a management policy” despite much concern by some in the recreational community on the ramifications the new rules could have on the bait fishery. While HB 483 is not a panacea for all of the ills facing our declining fisheries, it is a good first step.

It is interesting that some fishing groups would state they strongly oppose the bill, and ask their members to contact legislators to oppose HB 483, when they also admit they do not have all of the answers and “will continue to seek clarification”. It is also disappointing to hear the opposition from the recreational community while they also acknowledge “that there are apparent pressures on some of the referenced fish stocks.”

Despite criticism that length at maturity is not appropriate to apply to all fisheries, it is unequivocally the right approach for the six species named in this bill and the other species managed by North Carolina. The NCDMF website answers the question “Why do we have fisheries rules?” In discussing various types of fisheries rules they indicate that size limits “are meant to protect fish of spawning size before they are caught”. Who can disagree with this principle?

The use of mullet as bait will continue to be addressed by the MFC and DMF during the Fisheries Management Plan process. For example, since the 2015 Striped Mullet FMP was adopted, landings of striped mullet have declined, even in the absence of a minimum size or harvest limit. HB 483 requires some immediate action by fisheries managers to reduce the harvest of spawning fish. A commercial size limit would be one corrective action that would come from HB 483, and options exist in the bill that would allow the MFC and DMF, through the normal FMP process, to address the continued use of striped mullet as bait through separate recreational size and harvest limits.
We have also been told that Senate Bill 554, Marine Fisheries Reform, will not be heard by the House this session. CCA NC has tried unsuccessfully to provide input to DEQ on our many concerns with SB 554. CCA NC has offered revisions to the Fisheries Reform Act of 1997 since 2015 that would change the state’s current management standard from “maximum exploitation” to one of “responsible exploitation” given the public trust nature of coastal fisheries resources. DEQ has made it clear they have no interest in any compromise on SB 554.

The focus for both Legislative bodies is now on working out a budget compromise with Governor Cooper, if at all possible. All indications are that this could be a long process but all other committees are winding down and we do not expect much legislative action beyond the budget negotiations in the next few weeks.

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