Tom Campbell: North Carolina’s coastal fishing wars must end | Columnists

Tom Campbell Syndicated Columnist

Those of us who live or regularly spend time along the North Carolina coast recognize the five factors that drive the region: tourism, military, agriculture, forestry, and fishing. A major battle is being waged in our waters, particularly over fishing regulations.

This war has been raging for years, but just recently the volume has increased. Fighters include commercial fishers, recreational fishers and state regulators. And the fighting threatens to further divide our state.

One point most agree on is that over the past 20 years our seafood stocks have become so depleted that current stocks are not enough to replenish many species each year.

David Sneed, director of the Coastal Conservation Association, which represents recreational fishermen, said: “These 20 years of overfishing that I speak of, the commercial industry was taking 70-80% of the harvest. They are the reason we are in this boat today. They are the ones who had the most impact on the title. »

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Snead’s group has been suing the state since 2020 to hold it more accountable, saying state regulators and politicians have allowed commercial fishing interests to dominate regulatory policy because commercial interests have brought important campaign contributions from political candidates.

A few years ago I wrote a column complaining about the problem of overfishing. A commercial fisherman didn’t like my article and called the local paper, telling the publisher that if she ever printed another column of mine, her company would withhold any future support for the paper. The publisher called apologetically, but said she needed their financial support and would comply with the request.

At the end of February this year, the Marine Fisheries Commission (MFC) met in New Bern and, after a long and contentious discussion, agreed on management plans for shrimp and plaice. Earlier this month, a group of around 30 protesters gathered outside the NC Division of Marine Fisheries in Morehead City to complain about the new policies. A protester complained that the state won’t allow him to keep the flounder he catches, but he can go to most seafood markets and buy one. It’s not good, he said.

The new plaice management plan would limit recreational license holders to catching one plaice per person per day. Under a 70-30 rule, commercial fishing would take 70% of the harvest while limiting recreational interests to 30% by 2024. The new plan further recommends a 50-50 split from 2026. Shrimp fishermen would not be allowed to trawl in designated crab sanctuaries. When commercial fishermen strongly opposed the plan, the commission softened it to include fewer areas than originally proposed.

Commercial fishermen are a valued industry in our state, bringing seafood to our tables. Their payroll is essential to coastal economies and they should be able to live from their trade. But that doesn’t mean they can fish as much as they want, when they want, and in any way they want. Equally valuable is the contribution of recreational anglers, who generate tourism revenue by renting motel rooms and cabins, shopping at tackle stores, hiring fishing guides, and buying from marine suppliers and other retailers. They are important to our heritage and our way of life.

There should be room for commercial and recreational interests to coexist equitably. Given limited resources, regulators and legislators will need the wisdom of King Solomon.

But if there is a hole in the bottom of the boat, it doesn’t matter where you sit. Other coastal states have not encountered the decades-long battles that ours have. So let’s study why not. Then we need to re-examine our entire regulatory process, starting with how we make these important decisions and who needs to be at the table. The process must include commercial and recreational fishers, as well as guides, restaurants and seafood retailers. Maybe even environmentalists.

It’s time for North Carolina to fish or cut some bait.

Tom Campbell is a North Carolina Hall of Fame broadcaster and columnist who has covered North Carolina public policy issues since 1965. Contact him at [email protected]

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