Money continues to pile up while fishermen wait on lawyers

By on September 7, 2017

In 2015, compared to two years before, the cost of a standard commercial fishing license increased 100 percent taking it from $200 to $400. All other commercial licenses, as well as Recreational Commercial Gear License, also doubled during that time frame.

But it wasn’t a surprise to fishermen, because they requested it.

A legal settlement reached in 2010 with the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center mandated that the NC Division of Marine Fisheries obtain an Endangered Species Act Section 10 Incidental Take Permit to cover the large mesh gill nets used to catch flounder.

Advertisement

Prompting the legal action was the presence of five species of sea turtles listed as threatened or endangered. Part of the permit’s conditions is that the fishery be monitored by observers.

In 2014, commercial fishermen were told that the NC General Assembly was reducing funding for the Observer Program and without the revenues to pay observers, the flounder fishery would be shut down.

Former N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries Director Louis Daniel estimated that it would cost approximately $1.3 million.

In response, fishermen agreed to voluntarily increase their license fees enough to cover the cost but only to pay for the observers required as a Section 10 permit condition.

The large-mesh gill net observers are only one part of the Observer Program.

Advertisement

The previously existing base license fees go into the state’s General Fund; the new revenues are dedicated to providing funding for the observers.

Per law, after the cost of the observers is paid and at the end of the fiscal year, any unspent revenues are put under the Commercial Fishing Resource Funding Committee (CFRFC) which is to identify projects to fund.

Some of the revenues spent have been used to pay for activities other than observers.

Advertisement

DMF staff said in an interview Jan. 13 that the money is being used to pay for the entire Observer Program and includes the cost of sampling and data collection needed for stock assessments and fisheries management plans. This work was described as being conducted during the staff’s “down time.”

Daniel, too, previously noted that there is more to the Observer Program than just checking nets for turtles.

In an attempt to gain the permit, applications were submitted to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in 2011 and 2012.

In the applications, Daniel wrote that in addition to the large mesh gill net fisheries that target flounder, the Observer Program had been expanded to observe recreation hook and line fishery, collect data for use in stock assessments, in the development of Fishery Management Plans and for identifying bycatch (finfish, protected species) problem areas.

He wrote that (at that time) the program was funded through state appropriations, Atlantic Coastal Fisheries Cooperative Management Act, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Atlantic Coast Cooperative Statistics Program, and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

According to the DMF staff, the outside funding is no longer necessary due to the increase in license fees.

The CFRFC includes representatives of each of the state’s six commercial fishing organizations and it met for the first time on Feb. 1, 2016 to lay out the groundwork for the creation of a Memorandum of Agreement which is required in the statute that increased the cost of the license and created the fund.

Before any revenues can be expended by the committee, a MOA must be approved by the Joint Committee which includes the funding committee and three commercial fishing members of the MFC.

In that first meeting in 2016, Daniel reiterated that the funding was solely for implementing and maintaining the incidental take permits for sea turtles and sturgeon.

Staff noted that the amount in the fund wouldn’t be known until about August of each year after the books were closed out for the fiscal year that ends June 30.

Any unspent revenues remain in the account until needed and never revert to the state’s General Fund.

Eleven months passed before the committee was reconvened. During the second meeting held on Jan. 11, 2017 meeting, DMF staff reported that $1.4 million had gone into the fund in fiscal year ending June 30, 2016 but only about $600,000 was spent due to closures.

That leaves about $800,000 for the committee to use for fisheries-related projects.

Ironically, with more than half the cost estimated by Daniel still unspent, the situation mimics why the General Assembly reduced funding – almost twice was much was being budgeted as was being spent.

Also at the January meeting, fishermen questioned expenses being paid out of the license fees.

The DMF reported spending for furniture, boats, trucks trailers, a tort claim, office lease, cell phones, the salary of a Marine Patrol officer, etc.

Expense reports show reported expenses of $120,000 in 2014-15 and $102,000 in 2015-16 for temporary observers.

These expenses were paid for observers hired through Temporary Solutions, a state agency that provides candidates to other agencies needing temporary help.

In a recent job posting for an observer, it was noted that the wage for the position ranges from $7.25 to $13.86 per hour depending on education and experience.

Duties listed include: collection, coding and proofing of commercial catch, bycatch data, protected species interactions and fishing gear specifications.

Time sheets of observers hired through this program are submitted to Temporary Solutions which adds $2 per hour as an administrative charge and FICA.

The administrative charge equals $80 per week tacked on to the bill submitted for payment out of the license fees.

According to the DMF, commercial license receipts pay for 13 permanent and temporary employees in the Observer Program, including the salary and benefits of one Marine Patrol officer.

Three additional employees – the Section Chief, Biologist II, and Technician III – are paid from state appropriations.

The Section Chief Chris Batsavage has responsibilities that go beyond the Observer Program and include other Protected Resources section responsibilities, serving as a Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council and Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission proxies and chairing an internal Safety Committee.

Also in January, the committee discussed the MOA and what types of projects that they felt were needed including a comprehensive economic impact study of the industry and a turtle stock assessment.

In April 2017, the first meeting of the Joint Committee met to consider adopting a Memorandum of Agreement.

Andrew Berry of North Carolina Watermen United presented a suggested draft, however, before the full document could be read and considered, attorney Steve Weeks, who was representing the fishermen, and Marine Fisheries Commission attorney Philip Reynolds decided that they would work on the language and conditions of the MOA and bring it back to the committee.

Although the division is not a party to the memorandum, Reynolds said that he wanted to get staff input on the draft document.

Four months later and the committee still hasn’t received a draft document to consider. Since the last meeting, another fiscal year has ended which probably means that more money will go into the fund.

Nineteen months since the first meeting and fishermen are still all dressed up with no place to go.

Recent posts in this category

Comments

Andrew Berry

September 12, 2017 4:45 pm

The new MOU presented at the last meeting, Ms. Janet and Sammy both said they don’t have any problem about signing it and approving it. Why didn’t they go ahead and vote on it, they openly said in a public meeting they don’t have a an issue signing it. But once the DMF attorney got contacted, things came to a sudden stop!!! The DMF has nothing to do with this committee. Its the 3 commercial seat holders on the MFC and the appointed committee.

Myron Smith

September 10, 2017 4:41 pm

Commercial Fishermen are waiting to hear from NC Division of Marine Fisheries Attorney Phillip Reynolds. Attorney for Commercial Fishermen, Steve Weeks submitted MOU with changes April 27, 2017. NC Division of Marine Fisheries not responding????
Thanks for Info. Kathy Sparrow and Sandy Semans Ross! Call your NC Representatives

Browny Douglas

September 10, 2017 1:33 pm

Thank you Sandy for exsposing even more of the corrosion that exists within the management process of DMF. Top to bottom the DMF is under siege by the grasp of the “special interest” CCA. It is so bad that one of the CCA puppets and Chief LEOs was allowed to retire with 3 felony charges hanging over his head from years ago. All of which almost got expunged, but not quite.

Browny Douglas

Seal

September 10, 2017 10:04 am

Grease the palm’s of your politicians ! It works for everything else !

george

September 9, 2017 7:26 pm

king louie will end up with the $$$$, yours truly, Rep. William (Big Bill) Wrighter

The struggle is real

September 9, 2017 3:56 am

Most fishermen didn’t request to double their fees, it was crammed down our throats along with a lot of restrictions and forced to take complete strangers out with us on our boats. Makes for an awkward day. With all that extra money they have, it looks like they can use their own nets, boats and gas instead of ours!

Love a natural beach

September 8, 2017 5:46 pm

This is journalism? I’ll wager no one read all the way through all the gibberish.

Kathy Sparrow

September 8, 2017 2:46 pm

GREAT ARTICLE by Sandy Semans Ross on Commercial Resource Funding Committee meetings in OB Voice. Ross’ recount of events is accurate with one exception. It was Sammie Corbett, Chairman of MFC who requested the involvement of DMF lawyer Philip Reynolds. The MOA was ready to pass, before this suggestion to get the lawyers (Steve Weeks representing fishermen and Phillip Reynolds representing MFC) together came up. Both lawyers thought it would only take a few weeks to work out the details. The last Resource Committee meeting occurred on April 26, 2017 – 4-1/2 months ago. When NCWU inquired about what the hold-up was for setting the next meeting, Beth Giovani of DMR via email responded:
“I have not received any further details from the attorneys. As soon as they have agreed upon MOU language we can hold another meeting.” And Steve Weeks indicated in an email that: “I sent a copy of our proposed MOU to Phillip Reynolds on April 27, 2017. He advised that he had some suggested changes. He has not provided any suggested changes and has not responded to my emails or telephone calls, which is unusual for him. “

Join the discussion

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *