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Hearings on proposed wildlife and marine fisheries merger scheduled

By FRED BONNER
The proposed merger of the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission and the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries is again under consideration and, again, sure to create a controversy. With public hearings being scheduled the outdoor community is taking a long look at the benefits and problems that this merger could create.
State officials are looking for ideas from the public on how three different agencies can cooperatively provide more efficient, productive and enjoyable uses of the state’s fisheries resources.
The N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission will accept comments on this subject at its August meeting in Raleigh on behalf of the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries, N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission and N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
Legislation passed and signed into law this summer directs these agencies to study the current organization of the state’s fisheries management agencies and whether these agencies should be reorganized.
Currently, the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries manages coastal fish species while the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission manages inland fish species.
The commission will take public comment at 6 p.m. Aug. 22 and 9 a.m. Aug. 23 at the Brownstone Hilton DoubleTree Hotel, 1707 Hillsborough St., Raleigh.
The chairman will allow each commenter to speak for five minutes during the Aug. 22 session and three minutes during the Aug. 23 session. Due to time constraints, those making comments will be asked to speak only once, either at the Aug. 22 or Aug. 23 sessions. Individuals will not be allowed to speak during both public comment periods.
The Wildlife Resources Commission will also receive public comment on these issues during its Aug. 29 committee meetings at the Wildlife Resources Commission Headquarters Conference Room, 1751 Varsity Drive, N.C. State University Centennial Campus, Raleigh.
A lot of North Carolina’s outdoor sportsmen will be interested in the comments by the former Director of the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, Dick Hamilton.
Hamilton is currently working with the North Carolina Wildlife Federation as the Program Director of the N.C. Camouflage Coalition and one of the most experienced and respected wildlife and fisheries authorities in our state. With respect to the proposed merger of the fisheries programs within our state he states that, “As closely tied as the missions of the WRC and DMF are, I know there are areas of duplication, redundancy, and inefficiency that could be eliminated, and areas of synergy that could be improved through some degree of consolidation.  Positive changes in these areas would save significant money and increase effectiveness of the fisheries management program in NC.  Functions such as law enforcement patrol in coastal waters, duplicate air forces and communications systems, equipment and supply purchases, warehousing, recruitment and training, information technology and license sales, administration of the NC Administrative Code and regulatory process can all be streamlined and improved with consolidation.
“No reason is evident, except political patronage, for the inland and marine fisheries program to require the attention of 28 Commissioners.  This absurdly excessive number of political Commissioners appointed by the Governor and General Assembly is inefficient and expensive.  It is hard to imagine that NC actually needs more than around 10 Commissioners to adopt policies, set rules, and guide the fisheries programs.  The most effective states have about 5-9 Fish and Wildlife Commissioners.  Consolidation of the two separate Commissions and reduction in number of Commissioners would increase efficiency of operations and cut administrative costs significantly.
“Finally, the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services does an excellent job protecting and enhancing farm interests in NC; however, NCDA&CS has no role to play in fisheries management other than aquaculture, which they already handle.  To interject NCDA&CS into the fisheries management arena would be a big mistake and serve no useful purpose.  If the thought is to let them handle the fish after they reach the dock, it is a bad idea.  DMF already has a system of accounting for the harvest and auditing compliance of dealers and commercial fishermen with fisheries laws and rules.  Any change in the way we collect fishery harvest information would be disruptive, interrupt continuity, and challenge accuracy of this information that is critical to projections and evaluations of management strategies and practices.  We need to reduce the number agencies in fisheries management, not add to the list.  Adding fisheries responsibilities to NCDA&CS would be burdensome to that agency and tax resources that should be directed at the primary mission – agriculture.”
Additionally, the agencies will hold two joint meetings in coastal areas for the sole purpose of taking comments on this issue. The meetings are scheduled for 6 p.m. on Thursday, September 5th at the Craven County Cooperative Extension Office, 300 Industrial Drive, New Bern. The second public meeting will be at 6 p.m. on Friday, September 6 at 6 p.m., at the Dare County Administration Building, Commissioners Meeting Room, 954 Marshall C. Collins Drive, Manteo
The public may comment in writing online at http://www.ncsenatebill821.org/default.htm or by mail to S821 Comments, 1701 Mail Service Center, Raleigh NC 27699-1701. Deadline for receipt of written comments is Sept. 7.
All comments offered on this issue will be presented for joint consideration by all three agencies.