Game fish bill could spur growth
Legislation introduced in the N.C. House several weeks ago has saltwater recreational anglers cheering while in-shore commercial fishermen are booing the solons in Raleigh.
This jubilation or anger, depending on which group is talking, was created by HB 983 that would give game fish status to speckled trout, red drum and estuarine striped bass. This designation would prohibit catching these fish by net and selling them for consumption. The thinking by the Coastal Conservation Association, which is the force behind the legislation, is that the designation will create a significant economic growth component for our state. The game fish designation in no way affects recreational (rod and reel) size and creel limit.
This is more than just a bill for saltwater anglers. It is not an exaggeration to say that hotels, restaurants, boat dealers, tackle stores, convenience stores and many other retail businesses benefit from recreational angling.
These three species are the most prized targets of in-shore anglers from North Carolina down to Florida and over to Texas, where fishermen spend billions of dollars annually chasing these fish. Those states have much better stocks of speckled trout and red drum because North Carolina is the only state among them that doesn’t protect these species in some way such as a game fish designation. So where do you think the anglers are spending their money?
One interesting fact in this argument between recreational and commercial fishermen is the fisheries are in decline. Statistics from the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries indicate few commercial fishermen work fulltime in the industry. In 2012 there were only seven fishermen who earned over $10,000 in any combination of red drum, speckled trout or striped bass catch. Numbers show a decrease compared to 2011, an example of the declining fishery.
Now look at the economic impact generated by recreational and commercial fishing for these three species. Commercial landings for 2010 compiled by DMF show 1,113 netters earned $1,326,113 from the 932,000 pounds of fish caught among the three species. The total economic impact of the 19,337 commercial landings was $2.46 million.
By comparison, DMF figures show there were 975,831 recreational trips, meaning outings on a charter and private boats along with bank and pier fishing. Total poundage of the three species caught was 1,142,624 in 2010. These trips generated $30,477,340 in direct income for captains and guides but the economic impact of these trips was $77.64 million.
Just as most North Carolinians have a positive although old-fashioned view of farmers, commercial fishermen are seen as rugged individualists battling the sea and encroaching development to scrape out a meager living.
It is true that without commercial fishermen we wouldn’t enjoy eating wild fish, but this fishery is a tiny exception to that logical argument. Only nine-tenths of 1 percent of the state’s commercial harvest is made up of these three species. And unlike previous game fish legislation, HB 983 excludes ocean stripers from game fish designation. That fishery accounts for about 50 percent of the total commercial revenue of the three species.
The legislation does offer compensation for three years to commercial fishermen who lose income from the game fish designation. The money comes from increased fees that recreational fishermen will pay for saltwater licenses.
There is also an appropriation to fund the DMF’s observer program that will aid commercial fishermen in keeping the much more important flounder fishery open when closure is threatened by sea turtle conflicts. And finally it provides one-sixth of 1 percent of the state gas tax revenue to pay for dredging inlets used by both commercial vessels and recreational boats.
The bill has been assigned to the House Commerce and Job Development committee. Go to www.ncleg.net to find members of the committee and let them know your opinion.
Rip Woodin of Rocky Mount is a board member for the Coastal Conservation Association of N.C.