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New Bill Urges NC Fisheries to “Let 'Em Spawn,” Revive Dwindling Industry

New legislation would require marine fisheries to let some fish species reach maturity before they can be harvested. (Adobe Stock)
New legislation would require marine fisheries to let some fish species reach maturity before they can be harvested. (Adobe Stock)
April 29, 2019

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – North Carolina's fish stocks are dwindling, and new legislation aims to increase the populations of certain fish species harvested in commercial and recreational fisheries.

Marine fisheries currently operate by catching as many fish as possible, and millions of young fish often are killed before they've had a chance to reproduce.

Consequently, populations of Atlantic croaker, gray trout and other sought-after commercial and recreational fish populations have been depleted.

House Bill 483, known as "Let 'Em Spawn Before They Are Gone," would require fisheries to protect some species of juvenile fish until 75 percent of them have the chance to reproduce, or spawn.

Tim Gestwicki, chief executive of the North Carolina Wildlife Federation, says if the state doesn't act, there will be no more fish left to catch.

"We have too many juvenile fish being caught in our sounds that don't have the chance to reproduce or spawn and grow to maturity,” he points out. “There has been a lot of vitriol and battles between the recreational and commercial fishing sectors, and therefore nothing's been done and our fisheries continue to decline."

Co-sponsored by Roxboro Republican Larry Yarborough and nearly two dozen other legislators, House Bill 483 would establish a minimum size limit for fish maturity in each historically significant species.

Supporters of the bill say the new rule would allow fish to spawn at least once before being harvested, and over time could reverse the decline in fish stock.

Gestwicki says for decades North Carolina's marine fisheries have been steadily shrinking because of lax fishery-management regulations.

"If you look at gray trout, spot, Atlantic croaker, southern flounder and kingfishes, we've experienced an 83 percent decline in catches and landings of those species in the past 20 years,” he states. “The state has simply got to implement fisheries managements that are going to solve this problem."

Many coastal communities rely on the fishing industry for tourism and employment. In 2017, commercial fishing operations harvested nearly 20 million pounds of fish and shellfish.

Recreational harvests were slightly higher, at around 24 million pounds, according to the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries.

Disclosure: North Carolina Wildlife Federation contributes to our fund for reporting on Climate Change/Air Quality, Energy Policy, Environment, Water. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Nadia Ramlagan, Public News Service - NC