Gamefish legislation: Control or conservation?

By on May 15, 2013

Bill aims for economic benefits
Legislation introduced in the N.C. House several weeks ago has saltwater recreational anglers cheering while in-shore commercial fishermen are booing the solons in Raleigh.
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In this edition of The Voice we have printed a letter submitted to media outlets by Stephen Ammons on behalf of Rip Woodin of Rocky Mount.

Ammons is the executive director of the North Carolina chapter of the Coastal Conservation (CCA) and Woodin serves as a board member.

The CCA is an interest and lobbying group that says it represents the interests of recreational fishermen. The organization boasts 100,000 members with chapters in all 17 coastal states.

We would ask that you read the CCA letter first, then return to this piece.

As one can easily determine, the CCA is pushing for the passage of House Bill 983, which is currently languishing in committee after clearing a first reading in the North Carolina House of Representatives.

The bill seeks to designate three species of fish — spotted sea trout, red drum,and estuarine striped bass (rockfish) — as game fish under state law.

If successful, the bill will restrict the harvesting of these fish exclusively to hook and line catches by recreational fishermen.

While ocean-caught rockfish are not restricted, passing this bill would all but eliminate the three species from restaurant menus and local retail cases.

The CCA wants us to believe H.B. 983 is about conservation of a dwindling resource that commercial fishermen will over harvest in pursuit of short-term profits.

Let me begin by stating that I am a recreational angler, and the Voice understands, appreciates and supports the significant revenues accruing to our region from recreational fishing.

However, there comes a time when enough is enough, and the CCA’s deep pockets and seemingly convincing economic data are not reason enough to grant them total control over a natural resource.

And that is what this is really all about.

Beneath the smoke and mirrors and dazzling revenue estimates, at the end of the day, what the CCA is asking us to do is quite simple — give it sole access to this resource because its financial impact in North Carolina dwarfs the meager earnings scraped together by our overregulated commercial fleets.

Let’s start with one simple statement from the CCA’s national website: “On a local, state, and national level we help establish game fish status for recreational species.”

One need not go further than this statement to realize the CCA cares little about sharing a natural resource.

If there exists a species the CCA deems “recreational,” its goal appears to be to try to legislate that species for the exclusive use of one group — recreational anglers.

NOAA estimates there are 12 million recreational coastal anglers in the United States, so CCA’S membership base of 100,000 anglers shouldn’t carry much weight with state legislators.

Here is the gist of the CCA editorial:

In 2010, commercial fishermen landed 932,000 pounds of the three targeted species, generating a paltry $2.46 million in economic impact.

On the other hand, recreational fishermen landed 1.4 million pounds of rock, trout and red drum, contributing a whopping $78 million in economic impact.

In economics, the term “multiplier” measures how much overall revenue a single dollar generates as it cycles through the economy.

From the CCA data, we can assume the recreational dollar multiplier is far larger than that of the commercially generated dollar, so let’s just shift those 932,000 commercial pounds from the commercial ledgers to the recreational ledgers and the cash registers will sing.

Besides, the CCA website makes it clear that its the commercial anglers who are depleting our fishing stocks while recreational fishermen are depicted as pure conservationists.

Thus, by passing H.B. 983, we’ll not only generate more revenue per landed fish, we’ll save the three species from commercial overfishing.

Let’s take a breath.

I distrust any organization that manipulates data, so let’s call out the CCA on the above statistics from 2010.


Because the 2011 data from the same source they cite (the NC Division of Marine Fisheries) has been available for close to a year.

Fish data

In 2010, the CCA letter notes, 2.3 million pounds of the contested species were landed, with recreational landings accounting for 60 percent of the total.

But in 2011, recreational anglers alone landed 2.34 million pounds of rock, red drum and speckled (spotted) trout, while commercial fishermen pulled in just 576,000 pounds.

Those numbers work out to recreational fishermen harvesting 80 percent of the three species and commercial anglers weighing in at just under 20 percent of the total catch.

Our curiosity led us to track DMF data for the past five available years (2007-2011).

Over that half-decade, 13.1 million pounds of the three “game fish” species were landed.

Recreational fishermen accounted for a whopping 8.7 million pounds of those fish (66 percent), while commercial anglers settled for 4.4 million pounds (34%).

It should be noted that commercial landings are strictly accounted for as each fish landed must be recorded at the dock and a “fish ticket” issued.

On the other hand, recreational landings are largely estimated.

They could be higher or lower than the actual numbers caught, but since the CCA used the 2010 DMF numbers in support of their position, we feel compelled to accept the DMF numbers as valid.

At the end of the day, what we are left with is a simple case of greed, no different than garden variety Wall Street behavior.

Neither H.B. 983, nor the CCA proposes to freeze the total landings of these three species at the historic recreational numbers.

Thus, we’re just shifting North Carolina’s allocation from one group to another.

And their letter clearly affirms (without any supporting causal data) that states which have granted game fish status to these three species not only have seen increases in resource stocks ; they also are attracting recreational anglers that would otherwise come to North Carolina.

If H.B. 983 is passed and more recreational anglers come to our shores, one must also conclude the recreational landings will rise accordingly, which means more, not fewer fish will be caught.

There doesn’t seem to be a formula in H.B. 983 that would raise the breeding stock of the three species by reducing the catch. It merely shifts the catch from two groups to one group.

Another “fishy” assumption lies with the CCA’s economic impact numbers.

You won’t find on their website a copy of the study they presented to the legislature, nor will you find the underlying data that comprises their computation of revenue generation.

For example, are they counting the total revenue of a rental house or a hotel rented by a recreational angler with that of a resident commercial fisherman?

How much of that rental house income is allocated to recreational fishing versus sunbathing on the beach?

Does the CCA count “tourists” meals against the more modest food budget of a commercial waterman?

These questions remain a mystery, but the CCA wants our readers and our legislators to overlook these obvious data flaws and instead focus on the enormous generation of revenue they claim comes from the pockets of free-spending anglers.

From the data, it appears recreational anglers are harvesting more than their fair share of these three species.

And while superior revenue generation is a compelling argument, that argument doesn’t justify adding another nail in the coffin of our commercial fishing industry, nor does it justify restricting access to the consumption of a natural resource to a small segment of the population.

The 97 percent of our population and visitors who don’t fish these species have a right to consume and purchase this resource also.

H.B. 983 is bad politics.

It doesn’t matter if seven other states have fallen prey to the CCA’s spin.

Our commercial fishermen deserve the same rights to harvest available species as “Joe the Fisherman.”

To think otherwise is to deny our nation’s foundation of fair play, free enterprise and the dangers of rent-seeking interest groups.

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May 17, 2013 7:07 pm

@ ray says, commercial fisherman can only have a very few gray trout, so that is not the fish on the menu! besides, the gray trout dissappeared when the rockfish reappeared. rockfish are a strong preditor, and since their increase in numbers gray trout, croakers, crabs, and other prey have been in lesser numbers. ncdmf and nmfs have for years been protecting large game fish without considering the impact on the prey fish (the ones less glamorous to the rich sporties), therefore once the larger fish consume enough of the smaller fish, then the larger ones begin to recess on their cycle. been the same for hundreds of years!!! i fished for 55 yrs and have seen species come and go, nature has it’s way of taking care of her own. i personally am happy to see the rockfish diminish in numbers, as they are now doing, just to give some relief to the other species we haven’t seen so abundant for some time.
as for this new bill, some of ya’ll argue about the low numbers taken by comm. fisherman, and that there is alot of poaching going on. well, how many fish are taken by rec’s which are not accounted for, and how many rec’s take more than a limit. i am both rec and comm fisherman and support both sides when it comes to legislation (that is worthy), but as for this bill, it is totally the wrong approach.


May 16, 2013 4:20 pm

Oh, stripers in the sound…. Ask DMF what’s going on with them, because they don’t know. We think that the numbers aren’t there like they were because they were eating everything and nature kind of evened things out, although I hear of a few more this yr compared to the last 5-7yrs. But just look at history for the big cycles, just like big bluefish,


May 16, 2013 4:16 pm

Mr Smith, let’s talk about your last chastising of OBXcane. The 3species! Speckled trout run in amazing cycles, but get caught off guard by fast dropping temps during mild winters and get stunned and die, then we have a few down years and bang! We have a year like last and like the start of this yr! Drum, we had a little drop in numbers the last 5 yrs but last yr there were many small fish, this year they are everywhere, and many in the slot size! Wow the big one that you mouthed about, for winter work. SIR, on this subject you are out to lunch on! They are the MOST RESTRICTED out there for commercial harvest! We have not, I repeat HAVE NOT had very cold winters up north for the last few years. Because of that, those WILL NOT COME DOWN here! Your lack of knowledge about the facts, the industry (both sides), and the species and the fact that you come on here spouts the CCA manual is mind boggling! Your in the wrong area if you think that you know more than the people in the industry ( again, both) and that we will just roll over to this BS! Again, educate yourself! I and other would be more than happy to show or explain in person to you or any one else that is willing to learn the truth!


May 16, 2013 4:03 pm

@John Smith, SIR if you knew who I was and what I do and my past you would most likely go “oh crap”! SIR have you had direct dealings with the CCA???? Anything and I mean ANYTHING they are for you better open your eyes wide and beware!!! SIR, you have fallen for their BS! For those that don’t think that there is a healthy fishery as things are now are either lying, incompetent in catching fish or just plain dumb! SIR, this is a stepping stone for the CCA because they know that this Is where the best fishermen in the world come to work. SIR, tell us the truth, are you a CCA member? Ask any of the world class charter boat captains and mates in this county if they are! I would be utterly shocked if even one was! And Im not talking about the so called boats that go to one spot every trip every day and throw an anchor, Im talking about professionals. Just because you own a hotel doesn’t mean you know the first thing about it nor the fishery! Please educate yourself!

KDH Rezident Evil

May 16, 2013 3:43 pm

I am for any legislation that will lessen the impact of humans on the oceans inhabitants. Commercial fishing needlessly destroys tens of thousands (and that number might be short) of fish, turtle, and marine mammals every year. I’m not all hip-hip-hurray over the sports fishermen either, because some of them target the dwindling numbers of truly magnificent fish out there, but even when a recreational angler is “slaying them”, he or she isn’t doing a fraction of the damage a commercial fisherman does.

Even the Coast Guard, not known as a bastion of liberal thought, notes that world fisheries are in a serious state of decline and that the capacity of the US fishing fleet alone exceed all US fish stocks capability to reproduce. Just as poachers in Africa have sometimes been turned into effective game wardens protecting the animals they once hunted, maybe commercial fishermen can be contracted to patrol our waters for foreign fleets that come to poach our dwindling marine resources, giving them a chance to recover so we can then take a more managed, balanced approach to commercial fishing.


May 16, 2013 1:44 pm

My first post was just to state that we had already sent the resolution out. My next post is just my own personal opinion:

I personally don’t feel that designating them as “gamefish” is the right way to go about helping them bounce back. I am sure there are other ways to go about helping these fish bounce back in numbers if needed. I do recreationally fish and I just think this is not the way to go. People who have fished this way all their lives should be able to fish that way–maybe not with carte blanche but I believe they should be able to do it commercially. Regardless of how much of these fish the commercial fishermen do actually provide to the restaurants from the ocean, they do provide them. How many people come here and want rockfish and cannot go fishing? They should not be deprived of the ability to enjoy this fish in any of our local restaurants—we have people who come down just to eat this fish when it’s catching in restaurants. I just feel that many times it’s just easier to say, “Let’s just say you can’t do it anymore because we don’t want to make the effort to figure out something else.” Just like how many people come here and can’t trek from the parking lot to the water because of mobility issues and now they have to get a permit to drive on Cape Hatteras Nat’l Seashore so they can park near the water to enjoy the beach? Was that the most sensible thing done on the ORV issue, I would say no. I’m just saying that there is always another way—you don’t always just need to ban things.

John Smith

May 16, 2013 11:07 am

This is at OBXCane. I am not a hotel owner, but I beleive your views are short sided. I’m sure your views you expressed eariler were those of your commercial fishing biased peers. If our fishing came back the way it has in EVERY state that has brought about gamefish then you would have customers coming year round to stay at your hotel and not just for the summer months. Trout, red drum, and striper fishing can be just as good if not better in the cold months than the warm months. This would be mean year around income for your hotel which in turn would allow your employees to not be laid off seasonally. This would save the NC Taxpayers from not having to pay out unemployment dollars and your employees would be paying more in income taxes because they are making more money anually. More peoples jobs could benefit form just a couple hotels on the OBX than all the commercial guys who benefited fincially combined from these 3 fish across the state. This gamefish bill is not just about fish it’s about economics statewide and especially in small communities on our coast. With the influx of money comming in to target these fish the economic impact on peoples lives who don’t even fish will feel the benefits. Waiters & waitresses will be making tip money year round instead of just 4 months. Business might not close up and keep people hired year round. Business might start making the profits that they can keep people hired full time year round and start providing more benfits to their employees which in turn might help their kids. This is not just my opinion this was also a study done by the DMF over several years and we have living proof of substantial economic impact in other states once their fishing came back to historic levels. I hope you read this comment OBXCane, think about it, consider it, and possibily change your opinion.

John Smith

May 16, 2013 10:48 am

This is at Vballer. These fish are not just for “corrupt, vile, self serving CCA members”. These fish are for you, me, your parents, your kids, your friends that commercial fish, your friends that recreational fish, people from out of state who spend tons of money to come down here and fish, all in state residents who want to fish, people with $40,000 boats who want to fish, people with a $10 Wal Mart special fishing rods who want to fish off the beach on the free fishing day of July 4th, for people 5 years old to 105 years old. These fish being gamefish, which in turns brings healthier fish populations, benefits everyone which numbers in the millions by most estimates. By these fish not being gamefish benefits a couple hundred people of which most make very meager earings from them. If making these fish gamefish benefits the masses and non gamefish only helps a few then “the few” to me are the selffish, self serving, vile people.

John Smith

May 16, 2013 10:35 am

This is at OBXWahoo. Why do you think the “preserving a way of life” argument holds any water? Catching sturgeon, herring, and gray trout were a “way of life” for people many years ago but is gone now due to over harvesting. Commercial duck hunting on the OBX was a way of life until they killed all the waterfowl and they were deemed game birds because people finally people recognized their value in the recreational sector. Decoy makers, duck guides, blind builders, boat builders, gas stations, restaurant owners, hotel owners, etc all benefited and created new and more prosperous “livelihoods” from taking away a few peoples “livelihoods” (commercial duck hunters). In the act of “preserving a way of life” should we have stopped electricity from being brought to our homes to save the candle stick makers? Power companies destroyed the candle stick makers livelihood. I could go all day on examples of how when one industry dies many more can be created for the good of mankind. Stop treating commercial fishermens destructive fishing practices as a special interest group that can’t be touched. Better times will come when their out dated fishing practices and rapeing of a public resource is stopped.

Browny Douglas

May 16, 2013 1:39 am

The real John Smith says EVERYONE still will have access to these fish if 983 passes. That is not quite true. He, maybe in error, forgets the non fishing consumer.

Browny Douglas

May 16, 2013 12:44 am

I am so happy that the OBVOICE is knowledgeable of the truth. This article is spot on. I to have been in opposition to the selfishness of the elite game fishermen for 20 yrs. This is about total corporate control of yours and mine. They are relentless in their pursuit of a total net ban. They want all of the coastal waters for their play ground. FOREVER!!! They woo the legislature with visions of economic grandeur this time only because they have lost all previous attempts as sound science has never been their friend. This is big business versus the working man and be damned with the consumer. The CCA is asking the NC General Assembly to be complicit with their agenda by way of a LOT MORE [$$$$] than words. That agenda being the already wealthy wanting and getting it ALL. CLASS WARFARE???? I challenge anyone to mount an effective argument to the contrary. The CCA purports to represent the entire recreational fishery. NOT SO. Most recs I know, and that too is A LOT, detest the likes of the CCA and stand insulted by their claim to represent them. As they should. The commercial harvest of our resources has been economically important since the writing of the Federalists Papers. It still is. Being forced to dependence of feces raised [some times human]imports is as disgusting as those that “will” it so. Passage of HB 983 would represent wrong having conquered right. I want to trust that all legislators will, by process of reason, conclude the same and oppose passage of this BAD, in every way, bill.

Fishermans Wife

May 15, 2013 11:50 pm


May 15, 2013 8:25 pm

vballer says:

First, I am a recreational angler. The CCA is a vile and corrupt self serving organization that I have fought for many years when I was a mate and charter boat captain. The CCA cannot keep a chapter here on the OBX, the biggest sport fishing area in the state and second only to FL! Former president Dick Brame and I went at it many times including me challenging him to televised debates over the saltwater license, he was scared to do it when I told him to put his money where his mouth was! This game fish bill is a farce! If it does pass I hope that it is enforced to the letter of the law! You cannot transfer any of these fish at all, not even giving them to another person, or invite someone that did not catch it to dinner! Please do not buy into their self serving lies like other states. This will lead to a net ban, their ultimate goal! In LA the restaurants couldn’t get fresh fish and tried to get the law repealed and didn’t. In FL it put 1 of the 2 top bait companies in the world and the other moved out of the country. The CCA to get a saltwater license in NC used underhanded deceitful propaganda to get it passed. How do I know? I had the first petition in the state against it and fought the CCA up close and personal! They are trying to make a fishery just for themselves! In fact it even goes against the Fisheries Reform Act! How can you take a public trust resource and make it available for just a select few?


May 15, 2013 4:07 pm

Good points.

Initially I was swayed by the CCA’s argument, and I do believe the overall economic impact would be greater if these species were more protected.

However, there is something to be said for preserving the way of life for so many who rely on the extra income from netting.

I just wish both sides would work harder at increasing our fish stocks rather than just dividing up what’s already there. It’d be really nice if commercial interests were more interested in farming those species for resale rather than taking a public resource for private profit.

John Smith

May 15, 2013 2:16 pm

Commercial fishermen have taken away sturgeon, herring, gray trout, croakers, and spot away from recreational anglers so why is it crazy to believe a fish cannot be taken away from commercials. Check the landings on DMF’s website. Everyone in this state will have the same access to red drum, speckled trout, and striped bass. Noone will be denied these fish like commercials or this article leads you to beleieve. You just have to catch these fish yourself just like if you wanted dove, quail, rabbit, squirrel, deer, turkey, ducks, geese, swans, blue marlin, white marlin, striped marlin, black marlin, sailfish, tarpon, or any other gamefish or game animal that are already in this state because at some point in the past we had enough sense to recognize the value in their recretional use over their commercial use. Let me repeat that EVERY INDIVIDUAL STILL HAS ACCESS TO THESE FISH.

As far as the landing tickets to prove numbers caught by commercials I think you need to do some more investigative journalism. Those trip ticket numbers do not include “by Catch” or black market sales. Ask any DMF observer how many dead undersize red drum and stripers are discarded daily in the speckled trout and flounder gill net fisheries. Why are these numbers not included? Also, I would like to ask many of our religious commercial fishermen to put their hand on the bible and tell us they do not sell fish or know that their fellow commercial fishermen do not sell red drum, speckled trout, or stripers on the black market which that do not get included in these numbers. I don’t think you will find any volunteers.(And by “black market” I basically mean direct sales to restaurants under the table with no “trip ticket” or taxable sale.) There are no regulations of any significance on our NC commercial fishermen. Whenever a rule is passed commercials find a way around it, theres no enforcement, it’s business as usual and overfishing continues to exist.

Gamefish status for these 3 fish is our only hope we will ever have a fishery again in this state.


May 15, 2013 2:11 pm

I find the Woodin/CCA letter to be the most informative of anything I’ve read on this subject to date. Is it accurate? Well, the Voice’s commentary has done little to prove that it is or isn’t, other than to make a “play on numbers”, much in the same way they accuse the CCA.

For example, Russ Lay wants to discount the CCA’s 100,000 members as being a minimal part of the whole, and claim they should have little influence on state legislators, while, at the same time, the Voice and others on the Outer Banks tout much lesser memberships in organizations such as the NC Beach Buggy Association, Preserve Beach Access, etc. as proof positive that the majority of people in the USA believe in 4×4 beach driving, beach nourishment, and free-for-all beach access. Incidentally, the argument that the bill takes away a public trust commodity from people who can’t afford to take recreationally fishing trips is no more valid than the legal imposition of a state fishing license which may or may not be affordable by all citizens, is it?

In fact, commercial fisherman with ocean going vessels may be their own worst enemy in this battle, as I was surprised to see how small their total catch is among these species, added by the fact that the best of the three, in terms of dock dollars, isn’t being affected by this legislation. Along those lines, Russ Lay is off-base in his argument that all commercial landings of these fish are tagged and counted.
Lay must not know much about how a great number of sound side commercial fishermen handle a lot of their catch, and in fact, how much of their catch is sold to local restaurants and retail fish markets directly, thus escaping DMV counts.

I am not a big fan of this piece of proposed legislation, but frankly, I think the bigger voices for the commercial fishermen are making a lot of to-do over nothing, simply because it’s the thing to do because they rightfully feel they are always being over-regulated.

Also, everyone knows the gray trout, not speckle trout, is the most common of the two found on restaurant plates; and we know that sound side fishermen can ample supply rockfish to those few eateries who like to serve rockfish/stripers and an occasional red drum.

Finally, it’s interesting to note that neither Lay or the Voice touched upon Hb893’s clause that provides funding for shallow draft navigation channels in the state. Hey! Aren’t shallow draft channels used more by recreational fishermen than commercial fishermen? :)


May 15, 2013 1:56 pm

The Outer Banks Hotel/Motel Association is happy to have voted and sent a resolution to our state legislatures stating that we are against any type of “game fish” designation for these fish.

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