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02 Oct

Decline of the North Carolina Coastal Fishing Resource…Conclusions

February 13, 2020

As we head into the 2020 fishing season, nearly no movement has been seen from those responsible within the North Carolina government. A few fellow anglers and I reached out to a handful of state legislators over the past weeks to speak with them on the state’s decline of our coastal fishery.  They all seem to be out of touch with the magnitude of the issue. We found it puzzling that the complacency or significant reluctance to even discuss the topic was so apparent. They seem to be fearful and even uncomfortable about discussing the subject. It was as if the fisheries topic was forbidden to be dealt with. The responses were very aloof and never any commitment to talk further about the topic, much less pursue the issue with colleagues.

It appears that our state legislative body is frozen. I’m further surprised that even with the multiple news coverage events, social media buzz and just plain dockside talk that not a single member of the great state of North Carolina’s legislative body has stood up to offer help in reversing this now crucial happening. The governor’s office has remained silent and his only action was to remove from existence the online document of his promises to the state’s fishing community that he made prior to his election and replaced it with a campaign contribution solicitation. This serves as an enormous insult to North Carolina anglers both commercial and recreational.

It’s been months since Coastal Carolina Fisherman has made it’s first post on this volatile topic. We’ve been careful to make sure that all statements and conclusions were based on truth and facts. This a practice we will continue to maintain your trust.

The North Carolina fishing decline has been heading in this direction for a number years. Some species have become only a fraction of what they were just 10 years ago. Some, like Summer Flounder, have been reduced nearly half. The declines we are now experiencing are not a result of a sudden drop in the fishing resource, but a slow bleeding over numerous years.

  • As the North Carolina coast has grown in population the pressure on the fishery has seen a significant increase. With that increase the state has failed to create reasonable regulations for the commercial and recreational fisherman as other states have. This includes the use of tags for the recreational fishermen to better monitor the following:
    • The annual species reductions that would require immediate changes in catch limits and alterations to the regulations.
    • Annual catch figures that would reflect the impact of recreational fishing to the North Carolina fishing resource.
    • Better aligned catch limits and changes to regulations in targeted areas rather than the broad areas that are being used today.
    • Such a program would need mid-season adjustments.
  • North Carolina is the only state on the mid-Atlantic coast that allows inshore trawling. Trawling within the rivers and estuaries creates significant damage to the bottom in theses areas that are important to the fishery’s reproductive cycle and sources of food and protection for juvenile fish. The inshore trawling practice also causes extensive damage to our live bottom and its ecosystem.
  • The state allows commercial fishing licenses to be issued and maintained by individuals that are not “income earning” fisherman. Instead, they’re using the license for the ability to use commercial gear and fish under the catch regulations of the commercial fisherman. This action removes massive amounts of fish from our waters for private use. It serves to greatly reduce the catch for not only the recreational fisherman, but also the “income earning” commercial fisherman. The main area of impact caused by these non “income earning” fisherman are that they are using nets as their primary way to fish. This reduces not only targeted species, but also species that are considered prime food sources for other fish.
  • The total shutdown of any single species results in a “snow ball” effect toward other species. This was seen over the past 6 months with the closure of Flounder catch. With this closure, commercial fisherman and especially recreational fisherman, moved to targeting Speckled Trout. While large catches were being reported in the early and mid-part of the season, the first weeks of February proved that the Speckled Trout were close to non-existent in most areas of the North Carolina Coast. Large schools had been netted in creeks and recreational fishermen reported those large catches that resulted in a poor end.
  • The state’s fishery management is made up of a maze of commissioners, directors, managers and employees. They also have countless advisors and consultants. All these positions ultimately are controlled by the Governor of North Carolina and the state legislature. This group and their guidelines make it slow and even sometimes impossible to respond to events like this.
  • The presence of cronyism. This is based on the state’s refusal to acknowledge the severity of the resource issue by continuing to allow the inshore trawling that is mentioned above. This lack of action only serves to produce enough for the commercial fish market industry as well as serves to erode the segments of the North Carolina fishing resources that will pose as a negative impact on the future of commercial and recreational fishing.

Conclusions ( My Perspective)

There is a multitude of conclusions within this issue. After spending countless hours interviewing individuals close to the subject, I came to the realize that emotions, passion and bad information had driven many people to come to these incorrect conclusions. After 6 months of probing here are mine:

  • The fault of this problem is neither that of the recreational fisherman enjoying his favorite sport or commercial fishermen that works each day to feed their families. It is caused by a bureaucracy that has mismanaged a resource and refuses to alter this damaging course.
  • The solution is not found with panic, knee-jerk reactions, or snap decisions, but instead with seeking changes that are both short term and long term that will restore and protect our fishery. It’s about an agency that has a keen sense of what it protects and has the ability to quickly adjust the plan to resolve potential problems.
  • It’s about disconnecting with special interest groups that place interest on only a few companies above the health and very existence of our coastal fishing resource and those that depend on it (commercial fishermen) and those that love and use it (recreational fisherman). It’s time for our state’s politicians to cease using those special interest groups to fund their elections and remember those that voted them into office. We need to hold them accountable.
  • It’s time for the commercial fishermen (the true income earners) to cease to be intimidated by those special interest groups and those that support those groups. It’s time to protect the future and the profitability for the North Carolina commercial fishing industry.
  • It’s time for the recreational fisherman to increase their dedication to conservation, and one way is to reduce their take home catch. Our state’s fishing regulations are maximum catch limits, not fishing success quotas. Take only what you actually need. Most of all….stop complaining and become proactive. Actions speak louder than words. Become an advocate for change with your state’s officials. Communicate with them and tell them your concerns and get to know their position and then vote accordingly next November.
  • The recreational fishermen and commercial fishermen should lay down the hard feelings of the past and join forces to demand successful results. Stop finger pointing because both groups are pointing in the wrong direction. Point towards Raleigh. Stop letting the special interest groups pit you against each other as they laugh their way to the bank.  Both groups (commercial and recreational) have a lot to lose as the fishery declines, but the special interest groups have nothing to lose. They will simply continue to change their sources of product. 
  • It’s time to remove the “bad actors” from ruining our once dynamic North Carolina fishing resource. There are many in the NC Legislature, NC Marine Fisheries and state agencies that want to do the right thing on this issue. The same is true for the commercial and recreational fishermen.

It’s time to stand up and free our precious fishing resource from those “bad actors”. The Coastal Carolina Fisherman Online Magazine will continue to monitor this ongoing problem. We will also promise to work in reversing this decline. Thank you to all those that have helped and supported us up to this point.

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