The N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries has yet to act on an item in the 2014 state budget, apparently because it hasn’t gotten the green light from higher-ups in the government, all of whom have received a letter from 10 Republican legislators asking them to delay action.
The state budget, echoing a directive from the N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission, gave Dr. Louis Daniel, NCDMF’s executive director, the authority to enter into an Joint Enforcement Agreement with the National Marine Fisheries Service that would provide the state with an estimated $600,000 per year to allow the marine patrol and NMFS enforcement officers to respond to fisheries violations in either state or federal waters off North Carolina.
But Daniel is apparently waiting on directions from John Skvarla, director of the NCDMF’s parent N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, before doing anything. And Skvarla is apparently waiting for an okay from Gov. Pat McCrory.
Why? Six weeks ago, Daniel, Skvarla, McCrory, Rep. Thom Tillis (speaker of the state house and a candidate for the U.S. Senate) and Sen. Rep. Phil Berger (president of the state senate) received a letter from 10 Republican legislators expressing their opposition to the JEA, despite its having been part of the budget that was passed by both Republican-controlled houses of the legislature.
The legislators who signed the letter included:
* Sen. Bill Cook (R-Beaufort, Camden, Currituck, Dare, Gates, Hyde, Pasquotank, Perquimans);
* Sen. Norman Sanderson (R-Carteret, Craven, Pamlico);
* Sen. Jerry Tillman (R-Moore, Randolph);
* Rep. Michael Speciale (R-Beaufort, Craven, Pamlico);
* Rep. Larry Pittman (R-Cabarrus);
* Rep. Josh Dobson (R-Avery, McDowell, Mitchell);
* Rep. Carl Ford (R-Cabarrus, Rowan);
* Rep. Chris Millis (R-Onslow, Pender);
* Rep. John Bell (R-Craven, Green, Lenoir, Wayne);
* and Rep. George Cleveland (R-Onslow).
Daniel said that JEA was part of the state-budget bill, but he wasn’t ordered to facilitate the agreement, despite the state’s financial woes and the effects of the $600,000 on the operation of his agency.
“While legislation passed this session allows the division to enter into a Joint Enforcement Agreement, it does not require the state to do so,” Daniel said. “Our staff is compiling information and receiving comments on the issue to make a highly informed decision.
“I recognize that this is a controversial issue. We will seriously consider concerns expressed by those who support the JEA, as well as by those who oppose it, as we deliberate.”
A spokesman for Skvarla’s office said that NCDENR stands by Daniel’s statement. McCrory’s office has failed to return phone calls or emails asking for comment.
The $600,000 annual shot-in-the arm for NCDMF would go for upgrades of equipment and other items to allow the agency to work with NMFS enforcement. North Carolina is the only state on the Atlantic coast that has not entered into a JEA with NMFS.
In a nutshell, commercial fishing groups have fought to keep North Carolina from signing a JEA. Supporters of recreational fishing have fought for the JEA.
Joe Shute, a member of the N.C. Marine Fisheries Commissioner from Atlantic Beach, said NCDMF has seen serious funding cuts in recent years, and now that a JEA decision is stagnating, the agency is losing even more financial support.
“(NCDMF) lost $4 to $5 million the last three years,” he said. “We lost $300,000 this year because we were supposed to receive money from the JEA. So (the legislature) took back the $300,000 we were supposed to get because they thought we’d get the JEA (funds).”
Chuck Laughridge of Harkers Island, another member of the N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission, said Daniel has clear authorization to approve the JEA through the 1997 Fisheries Reform Act and because of a 6-1-2 vote by the Commission in favor of a JEA several months ago.
And Dick Hamilton, executive director of the N.C. Wildlife Federation’s Camo Coalition, called the legislators’ letter “unprecedented.”
“It is unprecedented for a group of legislators to attempt to override the valid action of the (N.C. General Assembly) by exerting political, end-run pressure on an agency to handicap its enforcement officers by not taking advantage of this JEA,” said Hamilton, a former executive director of the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission.