Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Report of the Marine Fisheries Study Committee - Squandered Opportunity

This special study committee was established after the 2011 Session failed to take up the issue of game fish status for red drum, speckled sea trout, and striped bass and was to examine and make recommendations for improvements in management of marine fisheries for consideration during the short spring session of the General Assembly.  A whole list of subjects was laid out for their review, including game fish, joint law enforcement authority, merger of the fisheries agencies, and other issues related to management of marine fisheries.  The Study Committee met four times since January. 

A great opportunity to reform and improve protection and management of our marine fisheries was squandered by failure of the Study Committee to seriously examine or analyze the current situation relative to management of marine fisheries or ways to improve it.  Pertinent information about the current declining status of marine fisheries stocks and the inherent value of marine fisheries to the state and local economies as compared to its meager value as a commodity were not presented and not discussed.  Political paralysis set in early in the process resulting in stagnation of any meaningful discussion or action. 
The final report is an orchestrated, last minute surprise that contains not one valuable recommendation to improve North Carolinas coastal fisheries.  Game fish was never mentioned nor was joint law enforcement authority for Marine Patrol Officers; commercial interests did not want these.  Merger of the fisheries agencies became a new study kicked down the road until October 1, 2012; now the study on merger will include the Department of Agriculture; commercial seafood interests would prefer to be considered as a commodity not subject to strict control as a natural resource.  

Additionally, and perhaps the worst idea to emerge in many years, is a recommendation to establish a sixteen member legislative oversight commission to oversee every detail of, not only marine fisheries issues, but also all wildlife resources issues as well.  If this oversight commission is enacted, it will politicize fish and wildlife programs and set back professional, science-based management to the dark ages.
So, not much positive to report from the touted Marine Fisheries Study Committee.  The next step along this tortuous road to improve management of our marine fisheries will be the actions to come from the short session.  The game fish bill, H353, is still alive in the House and can be taken up.  Also, the recommendation of the Marine Fisheries Study Committee may be acted upon.  The oversight commission for fish and wildlife deserves swift and certain action to see that it never sees the light of day.  We will watch carefully for positive signs of support for improvements in the way we protect and manage our marine fisheries in the short session.  We will give you our analysis in early July.