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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