#NCGA: Commercial fishermen reaching out to Raleigh

The North Carolina Fisheries Association — an organization claiming to advocate for commercial fishermen in the state — is putting forth a proposal for consideration during the General Assembly’s upcoming short session aimed at cooling off the simmering political debate about regulation of fishing off the state’s coast.

We had no idea how hot emotions were running on the issue of fisheries policy until we posted about a new documentary from citizen-journalist Nicole Revels.  That post is soon to become one of the most-commented-upon items in the history of this  blog.  Critics of commercial fishing have responded  to Revels’ film with their own video. 

People on both sides of this debate on the coast tell me that primary contests are being lined up for certain state legislators in the region based on their actions — or lack of action — on this issue.

Jerry Schill, interim executive director with the NCFA, released a statement letting us know about one of the latest developments in the on-going debate:

North Carolina’s commercial fishermen have offered a proposal they will take to the General Assembly for legislative
consideration in this year’s short session. The issue addresses the funding of observers in the gillnet fishery which is
required for information with the interaction of sea turtles.

The measure was put together from suggestions by commercial fishermen and approved unanimously at a special
meeting of the North Carolina Fisheries Association Board of Directors on Wednesday, February 19th.
The North Carolina Fisheries Association, a private trade association representing the interests of its member fishermen,
seafood dealers and processors, approved the proposal at a special Board of Directors meeting last Wednesday.
The measure would fund the program entirely by increases in license fees and be administered as a separate special
revenue fund in the office of the State Treasurer. The purpose of the fund is to enhance commercial fishing in North
Carolina to provide monies for development of sustainable commercial fishing and to provide funding for North
Carolina’s incidental take permits for the commercial fishing industry under the Endangered Species Act, (ESA), or
Marine Mammal Protection Act, (MMPA).
The principal of the Commercial Fishing Resources Fund would consist of a 100% increase in 6 license fees: Standard
Commercial Fishing License; Retired Standard Commercial Fishing License; License to Land or Sell; License for Fish
Dealers; Recreational Commercial gear licenses; and Shellfish Licenses.
The draft proposal suggests that the CFRF Board could disburse the principal and its investment income only upon the
written direction of both the Marine Fisheries Commission and the approval of a Commercial Fishing Resource Fund
Board of Directors, and such funds would be only for projects to develop sustainable commercial fishing and to provide
funding for mandated observations of the commercial fishing industry.

It is bittersweet that we make this announcement. While we are pleased that we have a proposal to provide funding for
the observer program, we are not so pleased of the need to do so.
For a little history: shortly after I began with the North Carolina Fisheries Association […] in 1987, I attended a series
of meetings with peer groups in the Gulf and South Atlantic to discuss the shrimp fishermen’s interaction with sea
turtles. Several species of turtles had been listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act, (ESA).
The challenge for the shrimpers was to come up with a way to keep turtles from drowning in their nets or face the very
real possibility of being put out of business by the federal government.
The federal government attempted to come up with a device to place in the shrimp net that would allow the escape of
sea turtles while allowing shrimpers to continue making a living, but it was only after the shrimpers themselves got into the design and implementation that they came up with a workable solution. The devices are called TEDs, or turtle
excluder devices.
Although TEDs work effectively to protect turtles, they do cost shrimpers money due to a reduction in catch.
The amount of capital, — time and money — spent by shrimpers to protect sea turtles has been tremendous. Not
only with the costs of the TEDs themselves and the loss of the shrimp catch, but the hundreds of meetings the shrimpers
have attended and those of us who represent them at meetings in the Gulf and the South Atlantic and in Washington DC.

In the 90s we began meeting with a group called the Alliance for America, which was a grassroots bunch of folks from all
over the U.S.; farmers, ranchers, loggers, forestry workers, miners and fishermen who got together to talk about the
Endangered Species Act and how it was affecting their individual lives and their communities. We shared our stories.
They heard about turtles and teds and we heard about spotted owls and we told them about the posting of instructions
for resuscitating a sea turtle on our fishing boats, and they told us about whole logging communities being lost when a
mill closed due to the spotted owl.
Whether it was the spotted owl in the northwest, the turtles in the southeast or the grizzly bear in Montana, one thing
became a very large concern. When it came to sea turtle protection, there was no end game! All of this protection, to
what end? Is the goal to bring these species back to healthy levels? If so, what are those levels? When can we see the
results of our efforts?
In our case it became clear that the delisting process, or getting to the point where the species populations were healthy
enough to be upgraded or taken of the list, was unattainable! Each species that is listed has a recovery plan including
criteria that must be met to be delisted. In the case of the sea turtles, one of the criteria includes a percentage of
beaches that must be in public, as in government, ownership or control!
While U.S. citizens suffer as our government continues to enact one restriction after another to unilaterally save the
world, other countries continue with business as usual, harvesting the turtle eggs and even the turtles themselves.
We need some political muscle to turn this around. The problem goes way beyond just affecting fishermen. We need
fewer politicians going on talk shows and more willing to take on these job-killing ideas of radicals.