In true government fashion, the NC House has tried to slip a very bad bill past the citizens of North Carolina and has rushed and hushed it in order to prejudice those most harmed, our North Carolina commercial fishermen and our fellow recreational fishermen, from having any time to mount any opposition to it. On Thursday, June 20, while hardly anyone noticed, the NC House passed HB-483 ("Let Them Spawn").
The "Let Them Spawn" bill sounds harmless enough; after all, it appears to protect fish until they at least have an opportunity to spawn once, and hence to ensure a better bounty of fish in Carolina waters. At least that is what I thought when I first read the bill - as a person without any knowledge at all of the fishing industry. I mean, who doesn't think it's wise to make sure that fish be able to reach adulthood so that they can reproduce and continue replenishing the bounty in our waters?
The bill seems simple enough in what it sets out to accomplish:
G.S. 113-182.1(b) is amended by adding a new subdivision to read: "(8) Include a minimum size limit for spot, Atlantic croaker, kingfishes, striped mullet, southern flounder, and bluefish, to ensure that seventy-five percent (75%) of the juvenile fish at the minimum size limit established for the species will reach the size of maturity and will have an opportunity to spawn at least once. The minimum size limit required by this subdivision shall be based on the best available biological and life history data for each species.
But as I found out, from meeting with and speaking to actual NC commercial fisherman, HB-483 may seem harmless (and even beneficial), but only on the surface. One fisherman, in fact, believes the bill was intentionally written to sound harmless in order to sell it to fellow legislators as a "good thing."
So why was HB-483 really passed? And more importantly, why was it pushed through the house with such great speed and with special accommodations?
The bill's main sponsor, Rep. Larry Yarborough (R-Granville and Person counties), a representative from as far west in the state and as far away as possible from the coast and fishing industry, was apparently relentless in pushing the bill. He, along with big money lobbyists from the North Carolina Wildlife Federation (NCWF) and to a lesser degree the Coastal Conservation Association (CCA), worked hard to convince House Republicans to get the bill heard. And, interesting enough, when they into a problem with the "crossover deadline" which is a date where any bill without a monetary component must pass either the House or Senate by that date or it's dead, knowing they had no monetary component, the Rules Committee met and quickly approved a substitute bill to include a provision for $10,000 of spending. In other words, special action was taken to make HB-483 eligible to survive the legislative process after the deadline.
As mentioned above, the bill passed the NC House by a vote of 58-47. There was no time for interested parties to have any meaningful opportunity to speak with their legislators or to consult relevant data and to pressure our legislators to due their due diligence and debate the issues and proposed solution honestly and robustly.
The NCWF and CCA say our fish stocks are all headed toward collapse, but those who are more knowledgeable on the subject say that this argument is simply not correct. But how are we to truly understand the issue and to assess the data when bill is being rushing through the General Assembly so as to foreclose the opportunity for such an inquiry. The problem with the bill and its rush through the GA, at the most fundamental level, is that it prevents such a debate. Another problem is that it doesn't take into account or address habitat loss, storms, and effort shifts due to regulations. Whether there is actually a problem and what the best and least intrusive solution might be are not part of the discussions.
I asked the fisherman a question: "What would be the negative unintended consequences of HB-483 on the commercial fishing industry and on recreational fishing?" They answered quickly, "It's not just the fishing industry and recreational fishing that are affected. The unintended consequences are far more extensive." And that is what I would like to focus on with this article.
We, the watchdogs on government, are of the mindset (as our Founding Fathers were) that government should impose as little regulations as possible. The more regulations, the less liberty. The more regulations, the less that the free market can produce the greatest outcomes. The more regulations, the more individuals are pressured out of their livelihoods. The more regulations, only the very wealthy and only the most successful of businesses can absorb the inherent costs of those regulations, thus starving out those who are needed for robust competition. When considering passing a new regulation, government should always make an honest assessment of what the consequences of such a regulation will be, in addition to the government's goal, and also what the negative unintended consequences will be. Only if the consequences are positive and the negative unintended consequences are at a very minimum should the government even consider passing the regulation. Take welfare, for example. The goal (at least the stated goal of LBJ's administration, was to provide temporary assistance to fight poverty and to help African-Americans be able to migrate out of the ghettos and into a better life. At the time of the new initiative, the African-American family was largely intact. Fifty later, welfare has become a generation way of life for African-Americans, destroying their families, destroying the priorities they need to advance in society, substituting hand-outs for initiative, relieving them of the initiative to become educated, and self-sufficient, and providing an incentive (not a deterrent) for bad decisions and non-productivity.
THE NEGATIVE UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES - of the "Let Them Spawn" Bill -
So what are some of the negative "unintended consequences" of HB-483?
(1) First, the bill will require fisherman to take precautions to protect the named species of fish, which, of course, means that the fishermen (commercial and recreational) will incur additional costs - most likely recurring costs. They will need special nets, they will need to measure the fish they catch (thus taking time away from fishing), etc.
(2) Next, the bill will need to be enforced. Besides increasing the bureaucracy of government, fisherman will be subject to inspections which will mean that government officials will be needed to inspect the boats, inspect the catch, inspect the nets, etc etc. No one enjoys being under the government microscope. No one enjoys having government agencies and officials up their butts.
** The greater the burden on fishermen, the greater the expense, the greater the regulatory over-sight, the greater the chance that individuals will refrain from engaging in recreational fishing or from going into the commercial fishing industry. Already, commercial fishing is down in our state, fairly significantly. The N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries issued a release last summer announcing that the amount of fish and shellfish that North Carolina fishermen sold to NC dealers Carolina in 2017 was down about 9% from usual and was below the five-year average.
Our state constitution was recently amended, by popular mandate, to include a special protection for the natural right of individuals to "hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife." At what point does government regulation burden the right enshrined in our constitution, and burden it to the point when individuals are discouraged from exercising it? (The right is also enshrined in the book of Genesis, man will have "have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.")
(3) Striped mullet is a prized recreational bait fish for pier, surf, and are also often used as a teaser and dredge baits for billfish. A number of fisheries in this state rely heavily on the use of striped mullet as a bait source that would fall below the proposed size restrictions. This would be a devastating blow to tackle shops up and down the coast, especially those that cater to surf fishing tournaments, some of which include over 600 anglers, on Hatteras Island, Ocracoke Island and Topsail Beach. These shops rely heavily on those bait sales during the fall months because it helps make up for the decrease in sales that comes after the peak tourist season in the summer months. In addition to surf fishing tournaments, numerous billfish tournaments along the coast such as the Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament utilize striped mullet during the tournament. Those tackle shops and fishermen would be extremely disadvantaged, in addition to the fishermen that make a living off these species via providing them to the tackle shops and fishermen themselves.
(4) Per federal catch estimates, North Carolina ranks #2 in fish landings for the recreational sector along the east coast of the United States. The state's coastal communities are home to dozens of "Mom & Pop" tackle shops, industry leading lure and tackle manufacturers, and numerous world renowned charter fishing fleets. North Carolina also has a rich history of boat building and commercial fishing heritage. It is known that a large majority of the fish caught on various "head boat" operations along our coast are the ones being targeted by HB-483. This bill can and will end all success for these types of boats which are used by thousands of residents and visitors each year. There is science, in fact, that shows areas in our sounds are where smaller fish live. The solution, it would seem, does not rest on prohibiting fishermen (commercial or recreational) from harvesting (ie, taking home for bait or for food) them. It will not make an area where younger fish inhabit change.
(5) North Carolina's coastline is also home to one of the best fall spot fisheries on the east coast. Piers along the coastline from Nags Head to Wilmington attract hordes of anglers from all reaches of the state and neighboring states. Many of these anglers can only afford to make that trip once or a handful of times to target these fish. When they come to the coast, they spend money in the local businesses such as tackle shops, restaurants, lodging, fishing piers and a wealth of other businesses. Their impact has a trickle-down effect with, most importantly, the bait suppliers to those tackle shops that provide bloodworms, shrimp, etc. Many of the fishing piers will tell you that the spot runs are vital to their yearly sales and that it does not matter if they are yellow belly or 5 inches.
(6) Again, eastern Carolina is a coastal community, full of inlets, waterways, sounds, and other coastal waters. It is a fisherman's paradise and a wonderful tourist area. It is home to tackle shops, fishing facilities, boat rentals, and most of all restaurants that offer its patrons a delicious selection of seafood dishes. All of these industries would suffer from the limitations imposed by HB-483. But seafood-loving patrons and restaurants would suffer the greatest, and for reasons that are truly an unintended consequence of the bill. Currently, those who eat seafood here in North Carolina (as in other states in our country) are at risk for ingesting carcinogens, mutagens, antibiotics, unsafe drug residues, parasites, and other nasty or toxic chemicals or contaminants.. Yes, there is a quiet health risk here that no one has addressed or that no one talks about (except perhaps the FDA, and most recently, the state of Louisiana). This risk comes from the fact that most of the US demand for seafood comes from imports, of which half are raised in aquaculture farms (aka, "fish farms"). Imported seafood, in fact, makes up approximately 90% of our seafood sales and consumption, with shrimp alone making up between 90-94% of our US shrimp demand. The domestic shrimp industry today produces only 6% of total US shrimp consumption.
While all domestically-caught shrimp are wholesome and safe, the same cannot be guaranteed for imported products. While most imported shrimp apparently is safe (testing is admittedly scarce), the frequency of product rejection because of the use of banned and toxic veterinary drugs is alarmingly high. It is disproportionately high, compared to other types of imported seafood. The widespread use of antibiotics and other illegal veterinary drugs used in aquaculture ponds, in fact, has created a serious threat to global public health. For example, five of the veterinary drugs found in imported seafood - chloramphenicol, flouroquinolones, gentian violet, malachite green, and nitrofurans - are commonly used in shrimp aquaculture. [A 2014 Louisiana State University study found that 92% of imported shrimp for sale in that state, also a coastal state, tested positive for illegal and toxic drug residues]. Commercial fisherman are concerned about the proposed changes in HB-483 to North Carolina fishery policy in that they could lead to a substantial reduction in the supply of local, wild-caught (and thus safe and drug/antibiotic-free) shrimp. Precautions in the way they fish, as imposed by the bill, would affect the amount of shrimp they will be able to catch. The unintended consequence of the bill, therefore, would be that the decrease in the availability to fresh and local caught shrimp to North Carolina consumers and to its restaurants would very likely increase the risk to those who eat shrimp of being exposed to toxic chemicals, carcinogens, mutagens, and banned veterinary products. North Carolina restaurant patrons, after all, assume that the shrimp they are eating are domestic and locally-caught.
Refer to the facts outlined in the Appendix at the end of the article.
** Points (3), (4), and (5) are copied and pasted from Jake Worthington, who started a Petition to the NC Senate urging it to vote NO on HB-483. [Reference: http://chng.it/BRMD2Mhr7R ]
Until a thorough analysis of the potential risks and benefits, including economics, health, sociological, environmental, and natural resource health is conducted and is publicly available, fishermen, conservatives, and others opposed to the swift passing of HB-483 demand a delay in the process of pushing the bill further. Simple changes to the natural resource's regulatory process, as well as changes to the fishery laws, can have significant and unintended negative consequences on the economic and social well-being of small rural communities already struggling in today's societal and economic climate.
Although this article focuses mainly on the negative consequences to the fresh shrimp market, the arguments made are likely just as applicable to other commercially-harvested species.