First in Over-Regulation: NC House Votes to Suffocate Commercial Fishing Industry

RALEIGH – The N.C. House passed the ‘Let Them Spawn‘ act, House Bill 483, Thursday in a divided vote. The division did not follow party lines, rather the split seemed to fall along the lines of respect for economic freedom and valuing local stakeholders versus a desire to micromanage and over-regulate an industry to benefit another with deeper pockets.

The bill, if enacted into law, would create minimum size limits for half a dozen species of fish that backers hope will result in at least 75 percent of juvenile fish reaching maturity. In other words, you can’t catch them until their old enough to have reproduced, hence “Let Them Spawn.”

It may sound reasonable on its face, but the implications of this bill reveal it to be anything but.

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North Carolinians not familiar with coastal issues may not fully understand the extent of the acrimonious battle between commercial and recreational fishing interests. Across the Old North State people are hyper-aware of college sports rivalries; the mustard-based versus vinegar-based pork barbecue debate rages on with everyone having a preference; but, the recreational versus commercial fishing rivalry is much more serious than that. This battle is decidedly political, and those politics have significant effects on the livelihoods of fishermen and whole fishing communities along our state’s bountiful coast.

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Recreational fishing interests want to catch fish, and big ones, for, well, recreation and the retail businesses associated with the pastime. Commercial fishing interests want to catch fish (and shrimp, and crabs, and harvest oysters, etc.), and a lot of them, in order to feed people and make a living. Much of the time commercial and recreational fishermen, many are both, coexist peacefully, but when it comes to the politics of fishing regulations that can make the difference making a living or not the tension rises noticeably.

Such is the case with H.B. 483, as the commercial fishing industry in the Old North State regards it as another nail in their coffin. To be sure, not all recreational fisherman are fans of this bill either, feeling there are better ways to manage fisheries. The interests that do favor this bill, however, are powerful enough to push it through passionate opposition from those that understand its implications for commercial fisherman.

The House’s passage of H.B. 483 had many taking names and sounding the alarm, including former State House member and conservative Beverly Boswell from Dare County:

Commercial fishing along the North Carolina coast is a heritage older than the United States itself. Entire communities make their livelihoods, in one way or another, from the commercial fishing industry. The industry itself is subjected to a mountain of regulations about what you can fish for, when you can fish for it, where you can fish, and what kind of fishing gear you can use. Not to mention the permitting and licensing requirements to be “allowed” to fish in the first place. The burden has been a suffocating for commercial fishermen trying to scratch out a living as there forebears have for generations.

So it is with this bill, which would indirectly limit the equipment (nets) commercial fishermen can use, lest they risk bycatch that violates a minimum size and therefore the law. Many think the bill sponsors, and the forces backing this bill, would be happiest if gill net fishing in particular were eliminated entirely. That way the recreational fishing can continue while much commercial fishing withers and dies, suffocated from regulations that protect one group’s interest at the expense of the other’s rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Follow this bill’s progress here, and if you like eating local, fresh seafood, call your state senator and let them know you don’t appreciate an overbearing government in the First in Freedom state.

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