GANT: Improving the fishing economy in North Carolina

N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries—N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries
Shrimp boats docked at Lockswood Folly area ofBrunswick County.

What if I told you that North Carolina could have the best fishing waters in the country? We already know that our unique coastal fisheries are a great source for local seafood and an excellent place for recreational anglers. But to answer the above question, we now have a chance to exponentially improve all parts of our state’s fishing economy for years to come.A group of lifelong fishermen has formed in North Carolina who are committed to restoring our position as one of the best places in the country to fish. This legislative session, we will be looking for common-sense solutions to help our state’s fishing economy become stable, sustainable, and enable long-term economic benefits. If we improve our fisheries as a resource, everyone will be better off.The state’s management of our publicly owned fisheries is based on laws from 1997 that could use some updating. Although the number of fish in our waters steadily declined over the years, we now have the chance to pursue policies that maximize the economic benefits of our sounds and create more jobs. And while many aspects of the fishing economy are struggling, we can now push for solutions that benefit everyone for future generations.To know where we are going, we can’t forget where we’ve been. For years, commercial and recreational fishermen argue over short-term fixes that do not allow dwindling fisheries to properly recover or increase in population. Commercial fishermen benefit directly from their catches, meet consumer demands, and provide jobs. Recreational anglers create travel, tourism, and manufacturing jobs. It’s time that our state looks at what is working and not working in the way that our state and others are managing their fisheries. From Murphy to Manteo, and Shallotte to Corolla, we can all agree that the state must grow the resources in our sounds and increase its economic benefits.Throughout the next few weeks we hope that citizens of our state will join groups like NC Sound Economy to advocate for common-sense solutions to fix a struggling fishing economy. Here’s why:First, North Carolina has outdated fishery management laws that must be updated. Secondly, we should prioritize the growth and sustainability of our fisheries and their economic impacts. Finally, the decision-making process for marine fisheries must be streamlined and more efficient.Twenty years ago, the legislature passed a major reform law meant to protect the fish populations and sustain the fishing economy. But year after year, our fish populations shrink, and regulatory actions mandated by the law make the problem worse. After two decades of failure, it’s time to fix the law.Our fishery management laws must focus on growing our fisheries as not only a resource but also a major economic staple to recreational and commercial fisherman. In contrast, these dated laws focus on maintaining fish populations to fill harvest production. This approach prohibits growth of the resource and keeps alive only enough fish to divide up for the taking. With proper management, the entire fishing economy should thrive, and the state’s top priority should be sustainable economic growth.Hundreds of factors can quickly and suddenly impact our fish populations. By prioritizing total resource growth and jobs, the state can more efficiently respond to sudden declines in the number of fish. The General Assembly shouldn’t be in the business of managing fisheries. Instead, regulatory decision-making should be based on research, including peer reviewed fish population reports, the best economic models, and input from North Carolina scientists.The state is clearly not getting the most possible economic benefit out of its sounds. We now have solid research that shows that major economic opportunities are within reach. NC Sound Economy is urging legislators to act now to grow our fishing economy.Allen Gant is founding member and chairman of the board of directors for NC Sound Economy, an expanding coalition of fishermen, business leaders, and concerned citizens who want to end the unproductive fights over a shrinking number of fish.