Game-fish bill discussed at public forum

Published 9:35 pm Monday, May 6, 2013

Supporters and opponents of House Bill 983 made their cases Monday during a public forum on the bill conducted at the N.C. General Assembly on Monday.

The bill, if passed, would designate red drum, spotted sea trout and rockfish (striped bass) as game fish that could only be caught by hook and line. Effectively, it would ban commercial fishermen from catching the three types of fish.

Audio from the hearing was streamed live via the General Assembly’s website. The hearing was conducted by state Rep. John Bell in the Finance and Appropriations Committee’s room.

Rep. Paul Tine, D-Care County, and Rep. Michael Speciale, R-Craven County, told the Daily News last week they oppose the bill. Each legislator said the bill is bad legislation. Tine attended the forum.

Several supporters of the bill said designating the fish as game fish would not adversely affect commercial fishermen because they don’t catch that many red drum, rockfish and spotted sea trout in their nets.

Rick Scruggs, a Swansboro resident and a member of Cape Lookout Fly Fishers, told his story about Charles Brown, once a commercial fisherman, but who became a fishing guide to better provide for his family, Scruggs said. Brown also became an advocate for protecting the fisheries, Scruggs noted.

“He cared a great deal about the resource. He taught those people about conservation and not filling up the cooler, but just enjoying the resource as it was. I would like to think that this bill would help, in the spirit of Charles Brown, to keep the resource alive and well for all of us. I think for him to have that turning point in his long career on the water, to go from nets to guiding, is an instructional lesson for all of us. So, I hope you will support this bill,” Scruggs said.

Bill opponents said the legislation is nothing more than an attempt by special-interest groups to prevent commercial fishermen from catching the fish. Speakers said the state should be working to protect and preserve the state’s commercial fishing industry instead of burdening it with more regulations. The commercial fishing industry is a vital part of the state’s economy, especially in coastal areas, bill opponents said.

Opponents questioned the science cited by the bill’s supporters as justification for need for the bill to become law.

“My name is Kelly Padilla, and I come here today to fight for my livelihood,” said a commercial fisherman and an opponent of the bill. “Approximately 20 percent of my income comes from red drum, striped bass and trout. I am a hard-working, self-employed individual who has never had to rely on government assistance for myself or my family,” Padilla said. “Banning these species from commercial fishermen and only allowing sport fishermen to benefit from these fish is a clear message from our government that they simply do not care for our livelihood. With ongoing restrictive fishing regulations and high gas prices, it is difficult enough to maintain a stable income. … There is a high demand for fresh seafood, and if this resource is deliberately removed from the harvest, it will negatively impact growth and tourism in our local communities.”

The bill’s primary sponsors are Reps. Tom Murry, R-Wake County; Michael Wray, D-Northampton County; Tim Moffitt, R-Buncombe County and John R. Bell IV, R-Wayne County. The bill, filed April 17, was passed by the N.C. House on its first reading April 18.

About Mike Voss

Mike Voss is the contributing editor at the Washington Daily News. He has a daughter and four grandchildren. Except for nearly six years he worked at the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., in the early to mid-1990s, he has been at the Daily News since April 1986.
Journalism awards:
• Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service, 1990.
• Society of Professional Journalists: Sigma Delta Chi Award, Bronze Medallion.
• Associated Press Managing Editors’ Public Service Award.
• Investigative Reporters & Editors’ Award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Public Service Award, 1989.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Investigative Reporting, 1990.
All those were for the articles he and Betty Gray wrote about the city’s contaminated water system in 1989-1990.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Investigative Reporting, 1991.
• North Carolina Press Association, Third Place, General News Reporting, 2005.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Lighter Columns, 2006.
Recently learned he will receive another award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Lighter Columns, 2010.
4. Lectured at or served on seminar panels at journalism schools at UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Maryland, Columbia University, Mary Washington University and Francis Marion University.

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