Monday, June 29, 2009

Merger of MFC and WRC; Common Sense and Fiscal Responsibility Demand Action!

Jim Holshouser and Jim Martin both commissioned efficiency studies when they were elected Governor in an attempt to improve the way state government delivered services. One of the conclusions of both studies was that the WRC and MFC should be merged to save significant funds and to improve efficiency. When the salt water fishing license was enacted in 2006, the law mandated that the WRC give written approval to all proposals from MFC to expend money from the Marine Resources Trust Fund and the Marine Resources Endowment Fund. Most coastal states have merged Marine and Fresh Water Fish and Wildlife agencies. The reasons are powerful and obvious:

1. Fiscal Savings – by merging the two agencies, an economy of scale would be realized that would eliminate duplication of programs and services that are quite similar in most regards, thereby saving millions of dollars every year and presenting a new image of efficiency to the general public. Just a few of the duplicated programs are:

a. Enforcement of boating laws and coastal recreational fishing license requirements. We now have vessels of each agency on the water together but neither agency enforces the other’s rules, thus creating confusion to the public and inefficiency.

b. Each agency currently has its own air force, including pilots and aircraft. Great efficiency would be realized by combining the two air forces into one.

c. Each agency presently has its own communications system, in many cases each has a radio repeater on the same tower and the state pays two rental fees for the use of the tower. Consolidating the two communication systems would result in better purchasing and maintenance bargaining power with vendors, and would streamline the interface with the general public. Now there are two communications centers, one in Morehead City and one in Raleigh. One entire center could be eliminated and the cost of several radio operator positions could be saved

d. MFC has no grass roots and outreach section to get the important message out to their constituents, MFC has no magazine. WRC has both functioning at high levels of output and effectiveness.

e. Both agencies have well developed Administrative Sections to handle Personnel, budget, inventory, warehousing, fulfillment, purchasing, accounts payable, federal financial assistance, information technology and other administrative responsibilities. Great efficiency and savings can be realized by combining these identical functions.

f. Both agencies have several and elaborate facilities on the coast which could be shared, thereby creating economy and efficiency. For instance oyster shells for reef creation could be readily stored on WRC gamelands, avoiding the cost of renting or buying land on which to store oyster shells.

g. The fishery research and management work of the two agencies are almost identical except for the salinity of the water and the difference in fish species. The procedures and requirements are almost identical. Great efficiency and savings can be realized by combining and sharing the laboratories, equipment, and technicians required to do this work.

h. Coordination and interaction with other agencies inside and outside state government and with the several conservation organizations and general public would be improved by consolidation and the interface with all these entities would be simplified.

i. Both the MFC and WRC have large boards that are expensive and cumbersome. Many would say that these Commissions are too large to be responsive and efficient. A single Commission of 9 members could readily handle the responsibilities of marine and fish and wildlife programs in NC. Such consolidation would streamline many processes that currently require participation and action by each board separately. Plus one Commission could operate in shorter time frames and less expensively.

j. The administrative staffs of both agencies could be streamlined thus freeing up positions to serve in research, habitat protection and management, and law enforcement.
These are just a few of the many savings and improvements that can be accomplished by combining WRC and MFC / DMF.

How can this merger be accomplished?

* Both agencies, WRC and MFC / DMF, are part of the Executive Branch of government, so the Governor would have to endorse the change. The Governor could recommend to the General Assembly in 2009 that the two agencies be combined. The actual combination would then be done by amending the statutes that apply.

* Due to the complicated interplay of laws and rules as they now exist, the NCGA may well see merit in appointing a Study Commission to develop plans for merger to be reported in bill format to the 2010 Short Session of the NCGA (May 2010.) The Study Commission would represent the two agencies, the Governor, the NCGA, and constituencies in some workable and fair format. The Study should be charged in the legislation to conduct certain reviews to determine the savings and improvements to be realized and the Study should also have a required Public Review and Input aspect to its work.

It is quite feasible that the applicable laws could be changed by October 1, 2010 and that the merger could be accomplished by July 1, 2012. The result would be a less expensive, more efficient, more responsive, more effective program to administer the fish and wildlife and marine resources of NC and to provide equitable access to these resources for livelihoods and recreation to all within the ability of the resources to support such activities.

In light of recent and historical actions by the MFC, and the absolute necessity for the NC Government to "tighten its belt", this merger just makes plain common sense!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Candidate Perdue's Answers to RFA Questionaire on Recreational Fishing

RFA-NC Fisheries Questionnaire, (Recreational Fishing Alliance, NC Chapter)
The following questions were addressed to NC Gubernatorial Candidates, Mayor Pat McCrory and Lt. Governor Beverly Perdue:

The following are "Candidate Perdue's" answers to the following questions.....

1) Given the known ecological importance of our near shore, inshore and estuarine bottom habitat and the problem of by-catch of non-target species from the use of trawls and gill nets, would you support programs to reduce use of gear that is shown to destroy inshore fishery habitat or that results in unacceptable by-catch of non-target fish or juvenile stages of aquatic life?

Our inshore habitat is our aquatic nursery so I would support programs to reduce use of gear that is shown to destroy inshore fishery habitat or that results in unacceptable by-catch of non-target fish or juvenile stages of aquatic life. We must be good stewards of our juvenile fish, allowing them to grow and reproduce so they will be of use to our commercial and recreational fishermen.

2) Would you help secure funding for a program within the State of North Carolina to develop and maintain the use of large scale oyster, clam and fin fish hatcheries for stock enhancement and aquaculture, which would reduce pressure on wild-fish stocks and augment rebuilding of certain fisheries, while creating jobs for troubled commercial fishermen?

Our commercial fishermen are facing new regulations from the state and federal authorities that do not allow them to conduct business as they historically have. Plus, with the increase in fuel prices and the reduction in the number of fish houses due to development, they are faced with monumental challenges for survival. These fishermen have the knowledge of the fisheries that will greatly reduce the learning curve for them to enter aquatic farming. I believe our state should provide incentives for them to become part of this type of venture, both on a resource and financial level.

3) Would you make appointments to the Marine Fisheries Commission and to the Joint
Legislative Committee on Seafood and Aquaculture based upon the public interest and
qualifications of the candidates to benefit the state as a whole, rather than to represent special interest or as favors to political supporters ?

As I am sure you know, the Governor appoints all nine members of the Marine Fisheries Commission, and also appoints its Chairman. I will expect and demand that those I appoint to serve without any agenda and preconceived notion on how things should be. I will demand that they listen to an issue, share what knowledge they have, and formulate a decision that is best for the resource. I am sure, too, that you know the Governor appoints 4 of the 15 members of the Seafood and Aquaculture Committee. These four will have an interest in the resource and serve in an unbiased, opened minded matter that best serves the resource.

4) Would you support using funds generated through the sale of the Coastal Recreational
Fishing License to promote recreational fishing opportunities including programs for the aggressive development of inshore and near-shore artificial reefs and programs to create and restore marine aquatic habitats?


5) As Governor, you would have the ability to open and amend the Fisheries Reform Act, which has not been updated since its passage over ten years ago... Would you open a review of this act?

If there is a clear and present need to open this, or any act, for review, I would do so.

6) As an immediate act of "good faith” would you grant the North Carolina State Fish, the Red Drum, game fish status, which would eliminate sale of Red Drum in North Carolina?

This is an idea that I would consider.

7) North Carolina’s commercial and recreational fishermen are an important part of our states’ history, economy and way of life. Will you support research to develop and implement "sustainable harvest methods” and "fishery habitat creation and restoration” techniques, to include involvement of the people who...

A) Know the water and fish the best;
B) Have the experience and equipment to conduct work in our sounds and rivers;
C) Need new employment in the face of escalating operational costs, depleted fish
Stocks, and tumbling fish markets... COMMERCIAL FISHERMEN?

I believe that A and B are best done through the Division of Marine fisheries. They have the knowledge and support to best care for the future of all fisheries.

I personally have a lot of concern for the plight of the commercial fishermen. High gas prices and low seafood prices have put them in a financial bind. And, historically, when a lot of these fishermen were not fishing, they were working in construction. And we all know what has happened to the housing market. I will support initiatives through our community college system that would help retrain, those wanting to be retrained, into a new vocation.

8) Do you think a voluntary “commercial fishing license buy-out” based upon a commercial
fisherman’s past involvement in commercial fishing activities and the level of income derived from commercial fishing has merit and should be considered, in a fashion similar to the “tobacco farmer buy-out” ?

I never say no to any concept without first fully exploring it. But I do have a problem with a “buy out” that is associated with a public trust resource. The first thing we need to do is to define what a “commercial fishermen” is. Then we can better look at the full impact of this concept.

As of this date, Governor Perdue has totally ignored two attempts by the CFRG to request her position on our NC Fishery issues of concern, and her position on H918. Perhaps "Candidate Perdue" and "Governor Perdue" have different opinions?

Saturday, June 6, 2009

NC Marine Fisheries Commission "Inaction" is in Fact an "Action"

At the May meeting of the NC Marine Fisheries Commission, the true political bias favoring the Commercial Fishing Sector and its interests were on full display as usual. When Commissioner Rob Bizzell made a motion to raise the minimum size for a legal Speckled Trout from 12 inches to 15 inches, there was not even a "second" to the motion! Not even a second to open the idea for debate or a vote!

Then a motion was made to raise that same size limit to 14 inches and there was a second, and it did not pass but was voted on to "discuss" among AC members and for them to get back to the commission with their suggestions. Now here we finally see the true colors of our MFC. The commercial seats know that if recreational anglers are willing to raise the size limit on themselves, and to also decrease the daily limit from 10 to 6 on themselves, then the commercial fishermen will be required to participate in some form to decrease the fishing pressure, and they want nothing to do with that!

Commissioner Mann clarified that a no-harvest provision for recreational fishing in Primary Nursery Areas would still allow a catch and release fishery. Commissioner Styron said if the MFC was going to allow catch and release fishing in the closed Primary Nursery Areas that is favoring one segment of the fishery over the other. Commissioner Beresoff said it would be hard to enforce, and he would prefer to make primary nursery areas sanctuaries. If these conflicts are that bad, close the areas to all fishermen.

Motion by Rob Bizzell to direct the regional advisory committees and the Finfish Advisory Committee to consider:

*No commercial or recreational harvest of spotted seatrout in Primary Nursery Areas from the New River and its tributaries northward;

*Harvest in Primary Nursery Areas by gill nets Monday – Thursday only, by recreational fishermen Friday – Sunday only, and no commercial or recreational harvest from Nov. 1 – March 1 annually;

*100 percent attendance of all gill nets in the Neuse, Newport, White Oak and New rivers and their tributaries;

*Limiting the amount of gill net used by individuals and/or geographic areas;

*Addressing conflicts in specific areas identified by the DMF based on reports; and any combination of the above.

Seconded by Rusty Russ – motion fails, two in favor and five opposed.

As the NC Marine Fisheries Commission continues to languish in its intentional indecisiveness and political posturing, another argument arises that certainly needs serious consideration. Why continue pandering to a system that obviously is not working and is politically designed for paralysis by analysis? Let's do away with the MFC and move the DMF to where it should be, and that is under the direction of the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission. Joint enforcement? Think of the millions of dollars that would be saved, and possibly, just possibly, our fisheries biologists and the management folks at the DMF could manage our fisheries based on true science, and politics would have to become the last consideration in all management decisions! That's the way it ought to be!