News analysis: McCrory set stage for latest threat to shrimping

By on January 13, 2017

A new designation would curtail  shrimp trawling. (NCDMF)

The North Carolina Marine Fisheries Commission appears poised to pass a new regulation that many critics say will drastically impact, perhaps even shut down, North Carolina’s shrimping industry.

On Jan. 17, the Marine Fisheries Commission will be holding a hearing in New Bern on the rule, which would essentially make all inland waterways a “secondary nursery” for fin fish, significantly curtailing the use of trawl nets to harvest shrimp.

After a huge turnout at a public hearing in 2013, the MFC denied a petition from an individual angler to implement similar rules.

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But with anti-shrimping forces possessing what appears to be a super-majority on the MFC, the petition and hearings are back, this time proposed by the North Carolina Wildlife Federation, a group closely allied with the Coastal Conservation Association — a special interest group that has long sought to ban shrimp trawls and finfish netting from the state’s inland waters.

Ironically, local commercial fishermen, who have heavily supported the GOP in state elections, have former Gov. Pat McCrory to thank for their predicament.

In November of last year, McCrory gave the Coastal Conservation Association of North Carolina an early Christmas present by awarding the lobbying group — long at odds with the state’s commercial fishing industry — a decisive majority on the Marine Fisheries Commission.

Adding insult to injury, McCrory re-appointed former CCA board member and outspoken critic of commercial fisheries, Chuck Laughridge, to the board.

Laughridge, while a member of the CCA, raised money for Republican candidates, including McCrory, and was awarded a seat on the MFC when McCrory took office.

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By statute, the MFC is supposed to balance the interests of commercial and recreational fisheries in its role of managing the state’s fisheries resources.

The MFC is composed of nine members, of which three represent commercial interests and three recreational. Another seat is reserved for a member of the marine science community, and the final two members carry “at-large” designations.

During McCrory’s term in office, the at-large seats have slowly turned into recreational angler seats, and his November, appointments sealed the deal for the CCA. The move was so blatant that the CCA crowed about their success in their ‘Tidelines” newsletter:

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“We have confirmed today that Governor Pat McCrory has made some important, pro-resource appointments on the NC Marine Fisheries Commission.”

The newsletter notes the reappointment of Laughridge as well as another recreational member, Mark Gorges.

The CCA publication felt confident enough to reveal the sleight-of-hand executed by the CCA and the governor to deliver the MFC into the hands of the CCA’s friends:

“Laughridge and Gorges will be switching seats. Laughridge will move to the Recreational Fisherman seat currently held by Gorges, and Gorges will move to fill the Coastal At-Large seat currently held by Laughridge. Triad area businessman, sportsman and conservationist Brad Koury has been appointed to fill the second At-Large seat that has been vacant since Commissioner Keith Rhodes resigned following the November 2016 Commission meeting.”

The appointment of Koury gives MFC members who are overtly recreation and anti-commercial five of the nine votes. Given that scientist Mike Wicker seems to vote with the recreational side on controversial issues, commercial fishermen are outvoted 6-3 on the current board.

The shrimp trawl debate and virtually every other issue that comes before the MFC brings with it finger pointing from both sides, intense interest group lobbying and charges of decisions based on “bad science.”

McCrory’s decision to load the MFC with CCA sympathizers takes away any pretense that the body will regulate our marine fishery resources in an even-handed matter or, for that matter, the public interest.

During the last two election cycles, our local representatives to the General Assembly made noises about reigning in the MFC and the Division of Marine Fisheries.

Ideas ranged from moving the body to a different state department to eliminating the at-large seats to prevent one side or the other from dominating the board.

But the CCA, which has on its lobby payroll prominent former GOP legislators and activists, has apparently been able to influence of non-coastal Republican legislators as well as the former governor and his staff, and the body remains a political football.

If the proposed shrimp trawl regulations are adopted, and the critics proved right — that shrimping as we know it in North Carolina will disappear — say good-bye to fresh local shrimp and hello to more of your favorite crustacean to be imported from Indonesia or Vietnam.

But don’t just blame the state or the legislature.

The ongoing threat to the local commercial fishing industry shouldn’t be news to any Dare County resident.

What is more alarming than the actions of the politicians and the special interests is the lack of interest shown locally in the ongoing war against commercial fishing, which adds $25 million to the local economy.

It’s time Dare’s citizens and interest groups weigh in on this issue also.

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