Published 9:38 am Monday, February 19, 2007
(This editorial originally appeared in The News &Observer.)
Maybe we ought to be thankful. Usually when legislators want to carelessly overrule one of the state’s scientific commissions, they simply introduce a bill to get their way. This year, the Joint Legislative Committee on Seafood and Aquaculture didn’t like a moratorium on river herring catches approved by the N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission. So the lawmakers wrote a letter to the commission asking that it reverse itself.
They want a 100,000-pound herring quota for commercial fisherman and a daily 12-fish limit for ordinary anglers. Actually, the letter still applies tremendous and undue pressure on the commission, which was created in part to ensure that fisheries policies are made on the basis of science, not just politics. Such meddling often results in commission members becoming discouraged with the work, something that the joint committee should want to avoid — and about which legislative leaders ought to warn their committees in general.
But the facts are on the commission’s side as well. River herring, the common name for blueback herring and alewife, are an ocean fish but spawn in freshwater; the Roanoke River historically has been a prime herring habitat, and the fish were economically important to North Carolina’s northeast.
Biologists aren’t sure why herring are at critically low levels, but a moratorium could return stocks in 10 to 20 years. The legislators’ quotas, in contrast, could wipe out more than 60 percent of breeding females. A separate law, the Fisheries Reform Act of 1997, outlaws overfishing of any species. Anything short of a moratorium seems to violate that law.