Dean Phillips of the Coastal Fisheries Reform Group, an organization dedicated to preserving and protecting coastal and saltwater resources, has charged that Rep. Tim Spear (D-Creswell) told him a bill that would give gamefish protection to spotted sea trout and red drum "had no business" appearing before a legislative committee that Spear chairs.

     A former N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission enforcement officer and clerk of court, Spear, chairman of the House Aquaculture and Marine Resources Commission, made the comments on April 22, according to Phillips.

     "(Spear) said, in his opinion, the bill had no business being introduced into the House, much less his committee," said Phillips, a resident of Surf City and a CFRG leader. "As the chairman of this committee, this one man can disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of recreational saltwater anglers who want to see this bill passed."

      Spear, who comes from a district heavily populated by commercial netters and the descendants of commercial fishermen, said he did not make the comments attributed to him by Phillips.

      "Mr. Phillips was not accurate in restating what I said to him," Spear said. "From various accounts I have read, he has chosen to attribute numerous statements to me that I have not made."

      The red drum is the official state fish of North Carolina, and commercial netters may only catch and retain incidentally seven redfish per day while setting nets for flounder and striped mullet, and the total weight of those drum can't be 50 percent of the total catch. Netters must, by law, release any red drum in addition to four caught incidentally. DMF director Louis Daniel dropped the daily take of red drum by netters to four per day last year as they approached a commercial cap of 250,000 pounds.

      However, a 2007 report notes North Carolina supplies 97.4 percent of all coastwide (Eastern seaboard) red drum netted commercially. Most other Eastern seaboard and Gulf Coast states prohibit the setting of inshore gill nets and severely restrict red drum netting and sales.

       North Carolina recreational anglers are limited to one redfish per day between 18 and 27 inches in length. The N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries still lists redfish as "recovering."

      However, because several year classes of red drum have been large, commercial netters have put pressure on state representatives to allow a greater harvest of reds, according to CFRG sources.

      Rep. Paul Leubke (D-Durham) and Rep. Carolyn Justice (R-New Hanover/Pender) are the primary sponsors of H918. Several veteran legislators have signed the bill as co-sponsors.

      "(CFRG) has heard that the speaker of the house, Joe Hackney (D-Orange), is a fair man and also has the power to pull a bill out of a committee, if he thinks it's a good bill that needs airing before the legislature," Phillips said. "We will ask Mr. Hackney to do that, if Spear won't let the bill be heard in his committee. If the bill doesn't get support after a fair hearing, then we'll pack our bags and go home. But after we present our case, I don't think it will be dismissed."

      Bill Holmes, legislative assistant to Hackney, said the speaker wasn't aware of the bill being held up by Spear.
      "(Hackney) could reassign the bill to another committee," Holmes said. "(Committee) members also can ask a bill be sent to another committee. But certainly, people who are supportive of the bill could call (the speaker) or committee members and let (them) know (about the bill)."

      Holmes said bills often are tabled if a chairman "isn't interested in it and the committee has a finite amount of time to deal with bills."

      According to published research, recreational fishing (boats, tackle, fuel, food, motel/hotel, licenses, electronics) for spotted sea trout and red drum added $78 million to the state's economy in 2007. Commercial landings of specks ($534,447) and red drum ($353,773) totaled less than 1 percent of all commercial fishing harvest values that year.