House bill proposes size limits on some fish

Published 7:14 pm Monday, June 24, 2019

A bill that just cleared the North Carolina House of Representatives would place minimum size limits on a number of coastal fish if signed into law, potentially impacting commercial and recreational fishing.

House Bill 483, entitled “Let Them Spawn” would require the N.C. Department of Marine Fisheries to set minimum sizes for spot, Atlantic croaker, kingfishes, striped mullet, southern flounder and bluefish. The purpose of the legislation is to ensure that 75% of fish reach the minimum size limit and have an opportunity to spawn at least once.

According to DMF Director Stephen W. Murphey, the proposed legislation may be too restrictive on how his agency manages the species listed. While a length of maturity may be important for some aspects of management, there can also be unintended consequences, such as higher mortality for the fish that are tossed back.

Murphey says there are a number of other tools that might help encourage these populations to spawn including slot limits (rules on the lengths of fish that may be kept), creel limits (the number of fish one can keep in a given day), quotas and seasons.

“I think there’s a better way to approach this,” Murphy said. “I think using these fishery management plans to vet the different management measures, without being too prescriptive to one method, is the better way to go.”

N.C. Rep. Keith Kidwell, who spoke in opposition to the bill on the House floor, argues that overregulation of the commercial fishing industry has lead to a major decline in what was once a thriving part of the coastal economy. From fishermen calling it quits to processing facilities shutting down throughout the state, he believes North Carolina’s loss has become gains for Virginia and South Carolina.

In essence, Kidwell says he is in favor of allowing the Division of Marine Fisheries to implement management practices they deem appropriate, without interference from the General Assembly.

In most cases, Kidwell said supporters of the bill tend to be from the western part of the state, with few coastal representatives in favor of the proposed size limits.

“This isn’t even a partisan issue,” Kidwell said. “This is an east-west issue.”

H.B. 483 passed its third reading in the House last Thursday by a vote of 58-47, and was sent to the Senate on Friday.