Three Republican senators from Eastern North Carolina have sponsored a bill in this session of the General Assembly that would increase registration fees – some by as much as 750 percent - for recreational boat owners.

The increase in fees would provide funds for dredging coastal inlets. Meanwhile, commercial fishing vessels - which require deeper channels at inlets and would benefit the most from dredging - won't be required to register their boats or pay fees.

The major sponsor of Senate Bill 58 is Sen. Harry Brown (R-Jacksonville). Co-sponsors include Sen. Bill Cook (R-Chocowinity) and Sen. Norman Sanderson (R-Arapahoe). Brown was involved during 2012 as co-chair of the Legislative Research Committee on Marine Fisheries that ultimately dismantled the "gamefish bill" that would have ended commercial netting and sale of spotted seatrout, red drum and striped bass.

Another large group of watercraft that would escape the fees included "documented vessels" – those registered with the U.S. Coast Guard and weighing more than five tons, including ocean-going commercial fishing boats and trawlers.

 

"Mainly, this bill increases fees on a sliding scale; the bigger the boat the higher the fee – except if the boat's a commercial fishing boat," a legislative source told North Carolina Sportsman. "Although half these new funds would go to the (N.C. Department of Environmental and Natural Resources) for inlet dredging, the bill doesn't say which inlets would be dredged.

 

"Another big problem would be exceptions. How many are there, and how much money would the fund pass up by not charging commercial boat owners? There's also the problem of fees levied against inland boat owners who don't go to the coast and won't benefit from paying higher registration fees."

 

The fees required by Senate Bill 58 would be collected by the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission and placed in its Boating Fund. But inside that fund, a newly-created "Shallow Draft Inlet Dredging Fund" would hold boat-registration money. Fifty percent of the fees collected from recreational boat registrations would help pay for dredging of coastal inlets.

 

The dredging fund would be under the control of the secretary of the NCDNER, not the Commission. Senate Bill 58 does not mention how the secretary will spend the money.

 

The magazine's source said dredging is needed most at Oregon Inlet to service a large commercial fishing fleet from Wanchese that requires access to the Atlantic Ocean.

 

"That channel needs to be 14 feet deep, while the small-boat inlets, used mostly by recreational boats, don't need but four feet or so," he said. "Will the majority of the dredging fees go to Oregon Inlet? And then you've got the problem of the cost to dredge that channel is more than the commercial fleet makes (in profit)."

 

Previously boat registration for recreational vessels included two fees: $15 for one year and $40 for three years.

 

Under the new legislation, there are 10 different fees, depending upon boat lengths, and they could vary from $15 to $150 for one year and $45 to $450 for three years.

 

"But people should remember the Speaker of the House (Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg) lives at Lake Norman," the source said. "What will happen when his neighbors ask him why is my (boat) registration increasing to $150, but that money's being used to dredge inlets where I never boat?"