For the fourth time, a bill to classify three coastal saltwater fish as "gamefish" has been introduced in the state legislature. Proponents are hoping this bill will fare better than the previous three attempts.

The bill, H 983, added April 17 to the N.C. House of Representatives hopper, would halt the sale of red drum and spotted seatrout from all coastal waters and striped bass from all coastal waters except the Atlantic Ocean.

The bi-partisan legislation has as primary sponsors: Tom Murry (R-Wake), Tim Moffitt (R-Buncombe), Michael Wray (D-Halifax/Northampton) and John Bell (R-Craven/Greene/ Lenoir/Wayne). It also has been signed by Brian Brown (R-Pitt), Becky Carney (D-Mecklenburg), Jim Fulghum (R-Wake), Darren Jackson (D-Wake), Marvin Lucas (D-Cumberland), Ruth Samuelson (R-Mecklenburg) and Joe Tolson (D-Edgecombe/ Martin).

The bill is entitled "The 2013 Fisheries Economic Development Act" and has passed a first reading and been sent to the Committee on Commerce and Job Development, of which Murry is chairman.

The legislation's main sections include a ban of the sale of the three species, mitigation payment arrangements for commercial fishermen who can show an actual financial loss if they can't sell these species, obtaining funds to dredge shallow-draft inlets, and providing for a fisheries observer program for the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries to keep it in compliance with provisions from a previous lawsuit about the protection of sea turtles.

 

The first section designates red drum and spotted seatrout as gamefish for inland and ocean waters and striped bass in waters other than the ocean. These species may only be taken by hook and line and "may not be sold, bartered or exchanged." Exceptions include fish raised in an aquaculture setting or imported from another state that doesn't have a gamefish designation.

 

Mitigation payments to commercial fishermen would be limited to a total of $1 million for the average yearly income from the sale of these fish from 2010 through 2012 and be paid in three installments during 2014, 2015 and 2016.

 

Another provision would increase the cost of annual and 10-day Coastal Recreational Fishing Licenses by $5 for residents and $10 for non-residents.

 

Another section of the bill would appropriate $1.3 million in General Fund money to support the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries Observer Program. The observer program is required to keep the flounder-netting industry open, as observers report interactions by nets with endangered sea turtles. This expense is part of a lawsuit filed to prevent injury and deaths to turtles by gill nets.

 

A final section would take part of the Highway Fund (1/6th of 1 percent of the gasoline fuel tax) and allocate it to the Wildlife Resources Fund to keep open shallow-draft navigation channels leading to and from the Atlantic Ocean. Previously, a bill had been introduced that would increase recreational fishing license fees for this purpose, but that bill will be withdrawn if the gamefish bill is passed and signed into law.

 

Legislators have attempted three times to pass gamefish-status bills for red drum, spotted seatrout and striped bass. The first two attempts saw bills wither away in committees. In 2011, with support in both the House and Senate, a gamefish bill was bartered away for votes to override Gov. Beverly Perdue's anticipated budget veto.

 

This gamefish-status bill is a finance bill, which means it isn't subject to the crossover deadline of May 16 to go to the state senate.