Commercial fisherman from the coast came to Raleigh in droves Monday for a legislative hearing to oppose a bill that would seek “game fish” status for three species: speckled trout, red drum and striped bass.
There was no vote on House Bill 983, but it was an emotional public hearing that stretched on for about 2 1/2 hours. The measure would allow these fish to be caught only by hook and line and would prohibit sales. Restaurant owners that sell seafood also came out in opposition to the bill, concerned that seafood lovers would lose access to their beloved dishes.
Some commercial fisherman said these species account for roughly 30 to 40 percent of their income, sometimes up to 90 percent.
Rep. Tom Murry, R-Wake, the bill’s sponsor, said the primary reason for the hearing was to engage fisherman in this legislation and strike a compromise. It would include a fund for commercial fishermen who lose money from the change.
“Eventually recreational fisherman will get game fish status,” he said. “It’s going to happen in the state of North Carolina. My goal is to represent a negotiation.”
North Carolinawould be the eighth state to make such a move, according to testimony at the hearing, if the bill passes.
Various commercial fishermen argued that game fish is a job killer that will destroy rural fishing communities. Others said commercial fisherman would not be put out of business and other states are proof of that.
Proponents argue there will be an increased population when the species are labeled game fish and when that happens, more recreational fisherman will come to North Carolina, bill proponents argued.
According to the Coastal Fisheries Reform Group, the N.C. Coastal Conservation Association has been pushing the legislation for the past three years.
But commercial fisherman argued they are trying to make a “mere living.”
One said catching these species can account for 15 percent of his income.
“I can pay my mortgage with that for the whole year,” he said.