The Joint Law Enforcement Agreement Advisory Group has been scheduled to meet June 1 at 5:00 P.M. at the Craven County Agricultural Center in New Bern for several weeks. In a press release e-mailed to media outlets and those on the Division of Marine Fisheries/Marine Fisheries Commission contact list on the afternoon of May 31, the Division of Marine Fisheries announced the agenda had been changed to allow public comment at the meeting. This was a surprise and hopefully those wanting to speak will be able to change their schedules at the late notice.

Session Law 2015-201, which began as Senate Bill 374, provides in Section 4 that the Division of Marine Fisheries of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources shall conduct a 12-month process to seek input from stakeholders on the impacts, costs, and benefits of a joint enforcement agreement with the National Marine Fisheries Service of the United States Department of Commerce and whether the authorization to enter into such an agreement should be reenacted. The study shall also include the establishment of and consultation with a stakeholder advisory group that shall only include persons who are for-hire license holders representing all major recreational fishing areas on the North Carolina coast, commercial fishing license holders on the North Carolina coast, and relevant staff to the Division. The Division shall submit its report to the Environmental Review Commission no later than October 15, 2016.

This is the first meeting of the group. The decision to allow public comment was made late and announced only the day prior to the meeting and after a holiday weekend. One fisherman who asked not to be identified for concerns of retribution, said this might not have been an intentional move to prevent receiving much public comment, but it sure seems like it.

Public comment will be accepted at the end of the meeting. Members of the public may also comment in writing as to whether the state should enter into a joint law enforcement agreement with the federal government. Written comments may be sent to Marine Patrol Capt. Steve Anthony at Steve.Anthony@ncdenr.gov or at P.O. Box 769, Morehead City, N.C. 28557. Mailed or e-mailed comments must be received by 5:00 P.M. July 1 to be considered.

 The division is conducting a 12-month study to determine the possible impacts, costs and benefits of a joint law enforcement agreement with the National Marine Fisheries Service, and whether the N.C. General Assembly should authorize the division to enter into an agreement. This group was mandated by the N.C. Legislature and this is their first meeting. The group is comprised of charter and commercial fishermen from all parts of the N.C. coast, plus appropriate DMF staff. 

In a joint enforcement agreement, the N.C. Marine Patrol would contract with the National Marine Fisheries Service Office of Law Enforcement to supplement and enhance federal fisheries law enforcement capabilities. The agreement would be accompanied by an enforcement plan in which both the state and federal agencies agree to a list of priorities and activities to be enforced by state officers. In return, the Marine Patrol would receive monetary compensation and training about federal regulations.

A joint enforcement agreement also would allow Marine Patrol officers to charge fishermen with minor federal offenses, and adjudicate those charges through state district court. For more information, contact Marine Patrol Col. Jim Kelley at 252-808-8130 or Jim.M.Kelley@ncdenr.gov.