An attempt by the N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission to curtail the sale of over-limit red drum by commercial netters lost a lot of its punch last week when officials with the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries determined that new restrictions might very well violate state statutes.

Dr. Louis Daniel, the agency’s executive director, signed a proclamation that took effect on Sept. 1 that reduced from 10 to seven the number of “by-catch” red drum commercial netters could sell. It also forced netters to sell their red drum before they sell targeted species such as flounder or striped mullet, and that the targeted species sold must weigh at least as much as the red drum sold.

The MFC’s original proposal, authored by commissioner Chuck Laughridge, apparently required a paper trail of “trip tickets” to monitor red drum sales – intending to prevent netters from selling targeted species at one fish dealer, then going to another dealer to sell over-the-limit by-catch reds.

Even though three agency lawyers reviewed Laughride’s proposal before it was passed by a 6-2-1 vote by the Commissioners, when the bill went to Raleigh for further review, the problems were discovered and the proposal was overturned, according to an unnamed source.

“The (NCDMF) doesn’t have the legal authority to force people to sell their fish, period,” the source said. “Nothing in existing law says (NCDMF) can make commercial anglers sell their catch. Chuck’s bill also would have required a (fish) dealer to take the responsibility to weigh a commercial angler’s other fish, even if they didn’t intend to sell them. However, (the proclamation) said a commercial netter, if he decides to sell his catch, now must sell his red drum first, and he also has to have all his fish in his possession at the time of sale.

“(Laughridge’s proposal) didn’t require electronic reporting and therefore would have stopped electronic reporting (for all species).”

The source said the proposal caught NCDMF lawyers and staff off-guard, and the agency didn’t have enough time to study its potential effects before the vote.

“It’s hard to know when they got a bill like this out of the blue how it will affect monitoring of other fisheries,” the source said. “If (Daniel) had suspended the (electronic reporting) rule, (NCDMF) couldn’t closely watch other species. But this doesn’t mean there’s not a solution in the future.”

Existing regulations allowed netters to sell no more than 10 by-catch reds per day, and the total weight of drum sold couldn’t exceed the weight of other targeted species being sold. However, no regulations prohibited netters from selling one limit of reds at one dealer, then selling their over-limit reds at another dealer.