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WRAL story on combing WRC & MFC

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    Posted: 22 November 2019 at 8:57am
https://www.wral.com/calls-for-reform-and-a-coming-resignation-as-fight-rages-over-coastal-fisheries/18778414/

Calls for reform, and a coming resignation, as fight rages over coastal fisheries

By Travis Fain, WRAL statehouse reporter

A wildlife conservation group called this week for an overhaul in the way North Carolina manages its coastal fisheries, and a member of the policy-setting commission in charge is contemplating resignation.

The N.C. Wildlife Federation voted Saturday to recommend a massive management consolidation over one of the state's most contentious issues. Under their plan the Marine Fisheries Commission, a board appointed by the governor, and the Division of Marine Fisheries, which enforces rules day-to-day along the North Carolina Coast, would be folded into the state's Wildlife Resources Commission.

Wildlife Resources is a stand-alone entity whose board is appointed by the governor and leadership in the N.C. House and Senate, and it already manages freshwater fishing in North Carolina's lakes and rivers. The commission is jousting now with the Division of Marine Fisheries over just where each entity's boundaries are when freshwater meets saltwater along North Carolina's coast.

In its resolution the N.C. Wildlife Federation blamed "permissive regulations of the N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission" for decreased fish stocks along the coast. It said the Division of Marine Fisheries has been underfunded, and that its similarity to Wildlife Resources creates "areas of duplication, redundancy, uncertainty and inefficiency."

The resolution went to Gov. Roy Cooper this week, and Cooper spokesman Ford Porter was noncommittal on its prospects.

"Regardless of the structure of the commission, it is crucial that regulations governing our state’s waters are based on science and the environment," Porter said in an email.

The change would require General Assembly action, putting it on the back burner until at least next year.

Division of Marine Fisheries Director Stephen Murphey said the resolution is "just the latest attempt" to manage fisheries outside of the regular process. He said the federation put two petitions for rule making before the Marine Fisheries Commission recently, and neither went through.

Murphey said his agency will do whatever the General Assembly says to do, but the merger doesn't make sense to him.

"There's a big difference between managing coastal and estuarine fisheries versus inland fisheries," Murphey said.

Murphey also pushed back against a perception that seems to be driving the call for merger: That fisheries policy has swung too much in favor of the commercial fishing industry.

"I think right now it's pretty well balanced," he said. "And, frankly, if you picked up the phone and called a bunch of commercial fishermen they'd probably tell you I'm a (jerk), and if you called the other side they'd tell you the same."

This is the constant fight over fisheries policy in North Carolina. Recreational anglers bemoan a decrease in fishing stocks and blame too-lax commercial fishing policies. Commercial fishermen fear the loss of their livelihood.

More than one state lawmaker laments their efforts to broker peace between these two sides. One statehouse insider called it "the forever civil war."

Cameron Boltes, who represents the recreational fishing industry on the commission, confirmed Thursday that he's planning to resign from the commission. He said he expects to meet with the governor and NC Department of Environmental Quality Secretary Michael Regan early next week.

"I think they're going to try to convince me to stay on, which I don't have any intention of doing," Boltes said.

Boltes didn't go into detail about why he's leaving the commission. Commission Chairman Rob Bizzell said Boltes, "told me he just was frustrated."

The Wildlife Federation's resolution is not the first time a merger has been suggested. The General Assembly ordered a study along these lines in 2012, and the heads of the Wildlife Resources Commission, the Division of Marine Fisheries and the Department of Agriculture met several times and decided "the impacts of reorganization would be both complex and uncertain," according to their report back to the legislature.

That report recommended more study and said there is already "a high level of cooperation among the agencies."

Proponents of the change argue there's a built-in conflict of interest in the Marine Fisheries Commission, which is required to have three appointees representing commercial fishermen or their industry and three representing recreational fishermen or that industry. They're joined by two at-large appointees on the nine-member board, plus an appointed scientist.

The votes commercial fishermen take on fishing and shrimping limits, "have tremendous influence on their own personal income," former Commissioner Mike Wicker said.

"As soon as you vote on something that's a really contentious thing it's all over Facebook: Commissioner Joe or Commissioner Jane voted to destroy the commercial fishing industry," Wicker said.

Bizzell acknowledged the "inherent conflict of interest" but said the board has done "a lot of good things." He was on the commission under governors Mike Easley and Bev Perdue, then returned as chairman under Cooper. He's a recreational fisherman appointee, which is the side making this push to do away with the commission altogether.

"Somebody feels like their toes are going to get stepped on no matter what we do," Bizzell said. "It's a multi-headed dragon. It's a hydra you might say ... and there's no easy straightforward answers to any of it."

A number of contentious issues have been before the commission, the Marine Fisheries Division and legislature over the last two years. Right now Wildlife Resources and the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality, where the Division of Marine Fisheries resides, are at odds over where each one's responsibilities should begin and end.

DEQ Chief Deputy Secretary John Nicholson sent the Wildlife Resources Commission a letter last month, saying DEQ had "serious concerns" with the legal theory Wildlife Resources relied on to propose a new delineation between MFC waters, WRC waters and jointly managed waters.

The letter says Wildlife Resources moved forward on the issue in August with little notice to the DEQ. The change suggested would likely decrease, by more than 226 square miles, the areas where gill nets, pound nets and pots could be used, the letter states. That, the letter says, would "likely result in a significant negative economic impact on commercial fishermen in certain counties."








Edited by j.willis - 22 November 2019 at 8:58am
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Rick View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Rick Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 22 November 2019 at 12:01pm
fiogf49gjkf0d
NC Fisheries Management- Motto: Too Little, Too Late, Too Bad   Slogan: Shrimp On! Mission Statement: Enable Commercial Fishing At Any and All Cost, Regardless of Impact to the Resource.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Rick Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 27 November 2019 at 9:38am

A friend sent me a screen shot this morning of Jerry's FB page.  It seems WRAL has him a little riled up-




Jerry needs to be reminded who is really on the Dark Side of commercial fishing in NC-








Edited by Rick - 27 November 2019 at 9:41am
fiogf49gjkf0d
NC Fisheries Management- Motto: Too Little, Too Late, Too Bad   Slogan: Shrimp On! Mission Statement: Enable Commercial Fishing At Any and All Cost, Regardless of Impact to the Resource.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote TomM Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 27 November 2019 at 7:36pm
Wish there was enough money to run these on local news programs statewide for awhile
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