Cobia vote cedes recs’ high ground

North Carolina Marine Fisheries Commission missed the mark on the cobia crisis, and recreational anglers lost the high ground because of it.

North Carolina misses the mark on cobia crisis

I can’t believe I’m admitting this in a public forum, but 20 years ago, I loved joining my kids to watch rubber-faced comedian Jim Varney in his series of “Ernest” movies.

The other day, “Ernest Scared Stupid,” came to mind. In the movie, Ernest is fighting some ugly, oversized troll that emerges from a gnarled old tree, talking with his dog, Rimshot, about their strategy. Changing his voice to effect a military commander, he tells Rimshot he has to “take the high ground.”

Unfortunately, what made me remember the movie was a thought I had about the N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission’s recent vote to go out of compliance with federal fisheries mandates to close the cobia season on June 20.

In a 3-2 vote in May — with three members who hold commercial-fishing seats abstaining — the commissioners who hold recreational-fishing or scientific seats voted to keep the recreational cobia season open through September, changing creel limits and size minimums to try to keep the harvest down.

The way the limits were carved up leaves no opinion other than that the commissioners’ vote reflected complaints from charter captains and guides on the Outer Banks that a June 20 closure would ruin them financially. Giving captains and guides a boat limit of four cobia per day and allowing recreational fishermen on private boats the opportunity to catch two cobia per boat per day only three days a week certainly looks like a cave-in to the for-hire fleet.

And by its vote, however, the Commission has ceded the “high ground” that recreational anglers have owned for decades — that’s when I thought about Varney, who died in 2000.

For years, recreational fishermen and conservation groups have sought to have some restrictions placed on North Carolina’s out-of-control commercial fishing industry. When the commercials complain about a reduction in their catch, and how not being able to catch all they want might affect their bottom lines, recreational fishermen have simply wagged their fingers and said, in effect, “Tsk, tsk, tsk. You’ve gotta take one for the team and do what’s right for the fishery.”

I’m not getting into the argument that the feds’ cobia numbers are all wrong and the annual allotment for the species should be much higher. That’s what some recreational fishermen argued. They sounded just like commercials arguing last year that there’s no problem with the flounder fisheries in North Carolina waters; the numbers are all wrong.

The point is, if recreational fishermen expect commercial fishermen to sit quietly when they get their hands slapped, then their recreation be the same when what goes around comes around. No wonder the Commission’s commercials didn’t vote.

What happened when the shoe was on the other foot? It got kicked off. And recreational fishermen got kicked off the high ground.

About Dan Kibler 887 Articles
Dan Kibler is the former 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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