Decline of North Carolina Fishing…….A Game of Divide and Conquer Teamed With Denial
The relative issues that drive the decline of North Carolina’s saltwater fishing resource have largely been overshadowed due to the ongoing battle between the commercial and recreational fishermen. It’s a battle that is grounded in emotions and blame. The recreation side of the issue fault the commercial fisherman for negative impact driven by net fishing, extensive bi-catch losses and trawling in the sounds and rivers which impacts the reproduction of the state’s fishery. The commercial fisherman is angry largely because of what they believe is the recreational fisherman’s interference in their livelihood. The fact is, both sides of this delicate issue are actually correct to a degree. Many of the activities of the commercial fisherman does have an adverse impact on the health of the state’s saltwater fishing resource. The same can be said for the recreational fisherman. Both sides of the issue many times become engaged in bad practices such as offloading their catch and returning to continue fishing on the same day, thus doubling their daily take. The same is true for the recreational fishermen that applies for and receives a commercial license, claiming to be a commercial fisherman for the sole reason of using commercial gear like nets and selling the fish to friends and neighbors. Also, the practice of out of state trawlers fishing the sounds and rivers of North Carolina by creating documentation that makes them indirectly part of a North Carolina based commercial fishing firm.
These practices pose a substantial impact on the state’s fishing stocks and make fishing less enjoyable for the recreational anglers and present a serious threat to the income of North Carolina’s law abiding commercial fisherman, which there are many. These are the guys that operate by the set regulations only to watch their incomes decrease, thanks to those anglers both commercial and recreational, that cheat the system and ignore the regulations that protect the fishery from the overuse that it now suffers from. The same kind of issues exist within the recreation fishing sector. As a fishing guide in 1997 I was one of less than a dozen fishing charter operations in Wrightsville Beach which now has more than a 100 today. The Wilmington area population was only 62,000 in 1997 and today it has nearly doubled to over 119,000, with many of those coming here to fish. This type of growth requires self-managed conservation among the recreational fishing community and the charter fishing industry.
As the state government continues to kick the proverbial can down the road, a large portion of the saltwater fishing stocks continue to shrink. Except for random spurts, the recreational fishing requires anglers to travel further and further offshore. This has been seen in recent years with the best flounder fishing taking place around nearshore and offshore structures and ledges. Thus, it becomes necessary for recreational fisherman to travel offshore for a fish that was once plentiful in our creeks, bays, rivers and sounds. At the same time, the commercial fisherman is faced with smaller size fish that requires more fish to show a profit and all of this converts into more hours on the water, more fuel cost. This all takes place while the state’s larger commercial fish wholesalers buy more and more fish from out of state. A tactic that reduces the profitability of the North Carolina commercial fisherman even more.
It is apparent that a good job has been done pitting the North Carolina commercial fishing industry against the state’s recreational fishing sector. It has proven to be an effective distraction from those parties that are actually the cause of the problems. It’s the tactic of divide and conquer and it’s working flawlessly. The problem is, when the last fish is caught in North Carolina, the large commercial fish wholesalers will just make up the difference by filling their orders with fish caught from other states and countries. So, the 2 groups that stand to lose the most are at odds with each other. The fact is, both sides have issues that need to be addressed. Both sides need to have a viable set of rules and regulations to abide by that will be the best for the North Carolina saltwater fishing resource and all who use it. Both sides need to get rid of those that abuse the system no matter which side they’re on. Special interest has no place in the management or control of one of our state’s more precious resource. Let’s put aside the past finger pointing between commercial and recreational fishermen and turn that finger towards those that allowed this to happen on their watch. It’s everyone’s fishery and everyone should work in its recovery and sustainability.
Below are the results in a recent poll that was taken on November 24, 2019 of Coastal Carolina Fisherman website viewers. These results are based on 230 responses.
Do you feel that North Carolina’s fishing resource has been mis-managed? Yes: 97.8% No: 2.2%
Do you feel the NC government has been responsive to the current fishery problem? Yes: 9.5% No: 90.5%
Do you believe that trawling should be banned from North Carolina’s sounds and rivers? Yes: 94% No: 6%
Would you like to see the NC State Legislature re-organize the fishery resource management? Yes: 98.4% No: 1.6%