NC Senate Bill 374: One Fish, Two Fish...

Today's post comes from Shelby White, a graduate student in Coastal and Ocean Policy.  Shelby's research focuses on regulation controversy between North Carolina's recreational and commercial fishing industries.  Her background is in marine science and the life and business of commercial fishing in NC with her family.


Those in careers that revolve around the water are subjected to some of the most contentious issues in North Carolina.  The for-hire industry is currently facing the possibility of a future logbook that would require each individual holding a For-Hire Coastal Recreational Fishing license to report the catch and effort data for each trip taken.  On November 10, members of the for-hire stakeholder advisory group met in New Bern to discuss expectations for future logbooks, as well as the positive and negative implications it could have for the industry.  This meeting was pursuant to Section 2 of Senate Bill 374, which repealed the requirement of a for-hire logbook.

Mention of requiring a for-hire logbook began in 2011, when the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries held a series of stakeholder meetings to receive feedback on proposed for-hire licensing changes.  In 2013, the General Assembly granted the Division the authority to require a mandatory for-hire logbook.  Throughout 2014, feedback was requested from the industry in regards to the construction and implementation of a logbook, including desired reporting methods.  The Division received $275,000 in federal funding to design a template and create mobile and internet applications that would allow for convenient reporting.  In 2015, another series of meetings were held resulting in significant opposition to the for-hire logbook.  The North Carolina Marine Fisheries Commission delayed the vote on the proposed for-hire logbook and the General Assembly removed the statutory authority to implement a log book.  Senate Bill 374 was adopted to repeal the mandatory requirement, as well as require the Division to study the advisability of a for-hire logbook in the future.  

From the perspective of the Division, a logbook would allow for more accurate data to guide management decisions, the ability to show the economic value of the industry in North Carolina, increased capability to establish accurate quotes and annual catch limits, the opportunity to identify rare event species, and the ability to better calculate harvest and discard rates.  To those involved in the industry, however, the logbook represents an infringement of valuable time and raises much concern about the future of the industry.  The concept of the for-hire logbook is similar to the Trip Ticket Program implemented in the commercial fishing industry.  Trip tickets are completed by the fish dealer to report catch and effort data, whereas the for-hire logbook would be completed by the charter captains themselves.

One group of for-hire fishermen support implementation of the logbook as a means to restore once viable fisheries, and the other is concerned the logbook will only result in inaccurate data and lead to further depletion of fish stocks.  Mandating a for-hire logbook will require each charter captain to fill out reports, regardless of their willingness to support a logbook.  The concern is that captains opposed to the logbook will report without accuracy, resulting in “bad” data that will be used by the Division for management decisions.  This raises the debatable question of whether logbooks should be required for all charter captains or only some that are willing to report accurately.  Inaccurate reports have the ability to skew management decisions and affect catch limits, as well as estimated stock sizes.  The matter then becomes a question of who should be allowed to participate in the report and whether or not these individuals should receive incentives, such as extra boat slippage, increased catch limits, or monetary compensation.  

The recreational for-hire industry is facing the depletion of valuable fish stocks and it is becoming increasingly difficult to make a living on the water.  Since 2011, the proposed logbook has received much opposition from the for-hire industry.  The most prominent concerns stem from uncertainty in how the logbook data will be used and how the Division can ensure the most accurate data.  Some argue that it is simply the cost of doing business, while others are reluctant to increase the already demanding work hours in the for-hire industry.  Although there is still apparent opposition to the implementation of a logbook, most in the for-hire industry have recognized that it is no longer a question of how or why it will be created, but when.  There is much need to understand the impact of the for-hire industry on the fish stocks of North Carolina and implementation of a logbook is an efficient method to acquire this data.  Even with contrasting views on the logbook, all charter captains can agree that with less fish to catch, their livelihoods are at stake.   

Comments

  1. Ms. White provides a very interesting perspective to this question. She recognizes concerns that inaccurate data may cause more harm than good.

    As a lifetime recreational sailor and sport diver (and not a commercial fisherman), I suspect that much of the weather data and perhaps the GPS data will be inaccurate. Whether resulting from the lack of instrumentation (costly and not necessary for many types of fishing), a failure to make contemporaneous entries or a laissez faire attitude, if the weather data is a requirement, guesswork will likely provide the answers at the end of the day when the trip is over. Even if the catch data is correct, questions regarding the meteorological conditions and the location over the sea bottom seem critical to the proactive management of marine resources.

    While some useful data may be obtained, the database will be compiled from sources with varying degrees of reliability. As a non-scientist (lawyer) I ask: Doesn't this violate basic principles of the "Scientific Method?" Might not the decisions, ie: Laws, predicated on unreliable data adversely impact the local marine environment and fish populations rather than protecting these resources? Won't the use of inaccurate data give rise to future litigation questioning necessity and validity of these laws?




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