State hit with another lawsuit over mismanaging marine fisheries just as it survives one


CCA-NC files suit in Wake County Superior Court after NCCFRG lets state slide in its own suit over shrimp trawling

The ink was barely dry on an ill-timed, somewhat misleading news release from the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality about surviving one lawsuit involving the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries when a second suit hit the streets on Wednesday.

The Coastal Conservation Association-North Carolina (CCA-NC) and 86 residents of North Carolina from 29 different counties — including five former members of the N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission — filed suit in Wake County Superior Court. The suit alleges the agency that manages North Carolina’s marine resources has been an “abject failure” in meeting its legal duties to manage coastal fishing stocks in a manner that would fulfill its constitutional “public-trust responsibilities” and protect “public-trust rights” to fish in coastal waters.

On Tuesday, the N.C. Coastal Fisheries Reform Group (NCCFRG) announced it was dropping the portion of a previously filed lawsuit that involves the state and its marine fisheries agency, while the remainder of the lawsuit — aimed at the damage that large shrimp-trawling operations do to North Carolina waters, unhindered by the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries — remains in effect.

NCCFRG has agreement from CCA-NC

NCDEQ sent out a news release trumpeting that NCCFRG had “dropped a lawsuit that claimed without evidence that the state fisheries agency is violating the federal Clean Water Act in its management of shrimp trawling in North Carolina.” 

Never mind that the state doesn’t get to decide that the lawsuit was “without evidence.”

“The Division of Marine Fisheries vigorously protects the resources of this state and its fisheries,” said Michael S. Regan, secretary for NCDEQ. “This dismissal confirms our view from the outset that the claims in this lawsuit were without legal merit, and detract from the meaningful efforts of diverse stakeholders working together to ensure we protect our resources for current and future generations.”

Apparently, some other stakeholders don’t think the state is doing anything in the way of protection, namely CCA-NC, which filed suit, essentially accusing the agency of managing marine resources for the good of the commercial fishing industry.

“The State has failed to meet that legal duty, however, instead allowing for-profit exploitation of coastal fisheries resources by fewer than 7,000 citizens to supplant the public rights of 11 million citizens to use coastal fisheries resources,” CCA-NC said in announcing the suit.”

In addition, CCA-NC’s announcement said, “the State’s regulatory agencies ultimately become co-opted to serve the commercial interests they are charged with regulating.

In its suit, CCA-NC details what it calls “specific evidence” of long-term declines in North Carolina’s marine fish populations, with very few, if any, moves by NCDMF to turn things around. Specifically mentioned were river herring, Southern flounder, striped bass, spot, croaker and weakfish.

CCA-NC’s lawsuit cites specific failures by NCDEQ

CCA-NC also says the lawsuit cites “three critical state management failures that have infringed on the public’s right to fish for personal use: (1) facilitating commercial fishing practices and gears that cause staggering amounts of resource wastage; (2) allowing chronic overfishing of multiple fish stocks historically important to the fishing public to cause stock demise; and (3) disregarding a lack of reporting of any harvest by over half of all State commercial fishing license holders.”

NCCFRG’s lawsuit, filed in August in federal court, alleges violations of the Federal Clean Water Act. It named six of the largest corporate shrimp trawlers in North Carolina, as well as NCDEQ. NCCFRG’s news release on Thursday said NCDEQ had argued that it could not be sued in federal court due to technicalities. NCCFRG dismissed that part of the suit involving NCDEQ but did not dismiss the entire lawsuit.

Our counsel advised us that DEQ had made strong arguments on some technicalities that would protect it from being brought to account in (federal court),” said Joe Albea, one of NCCFRG’s leaders. “But for Secretary Regan to assert that our suit was shown to be without merit is a lie. Our suit will continue.

I want to set one thing straight today: NC DEQ is not, and has never been, the main target of our grievance. While we assert they are absolutely complicit in the significant decline of our pubic trust resource, NCCFRG’s suit is aimed at the large industrial, ocean-going trawlers that are ravaging our inshore waters for private profit.”

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About Dan Kibler 862 Articles
Dan Kibler is managing editor of Carolina Sportsman Magazine. If every fish were a redfish and every big-game animal a wild turkey, he wouldn’t ever complain. His writing and photography skills have earned him numerous awards throughout his career.

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