The Coastal Fisheries Reform Group declared last week its intent to seek a total gill-net ban in North Carolina coastal waters.

The notice came in a news release that cited inaction on the part of the state legislature on a bill that would give gamefish status to spotted seatrout, striped bass and red drum, plus inaction on the part of the legislature's Committee on Marine Resources. CFRG also cites inaction on the part of the North Carolina Marine Fisheries Commission to approve measures to conserve and protect certain saltwater fish species.

The saltwater committee has held three public meetings, with a third scheduled for early April. The committee's leadership said it would submit proposals or bills to the next regular session of the legislature during early May.

"CFRG is developing plans to unite with all other fish and wildlife conservation organizations and agencies, private, state and federal, to rid our waters of this destructive gear that has taken and continues to take a terrible toll on our marine resources," the release said.

CFRG's release detailed its attempts to work "within the system," to no avail and expressed frustration that the legislature hasn't advanced the gamefish-status bill to an open vote in the house and senate, even with apparent majority support for change in both chambers and with clear support for changes in saltwater management,

"Over the last four years, the Coastal Fisheries Reform Group, which is composed of thousands of dedicated sport fishermen with the common goal of improving North Carolina's marine fisheries, has worked diligently within the established system to promote a more equitable and effective fishery management program," the release said. "After running into a blank wall at the Maine Fisheries Commission, CFRG carried its concerns to the North Carolina General Assembly in 2009. Our bill to give coastal gamefish status to speckled trout and red drum was derailed by Sen. (Marc) Basnight and Rep. Tim Spear, even though significant support was present in the public arena and in the legislature. Our bill never got a fair hearing, and no vote was ever taken.

"In 2011, recreational fishermen came back to a Republican legislature and promises of action on the coastal gamefish issue. House Bill 353 was introduced by a bipartisan group of over 20 representatives, and hope was alive. At the end of the session, HB 353 was sacrificed on the altar of overriding the governor's budget veto with the promise that a special study committee would look into this question and other aspects of the marine fisheries program in North Carolina and report legislative changes to the spring session of the legislature. This special study committee has met twice now without any discernable progress or even meaningful discussion of the most critical issues.

"Time is running out and no progress is in sight. We are hearing the coastal gamefish issue is just too volatile to bring up in an election year. We are tiring of this same old story that just kicks the issue farther down the road. We need action now, and we will be heard.

"With the legislature continuing in its meek course, paralyzed into inaction by the loud noise of commercial fisheries interests, CFRG plans to act. We have retired our effort toward compromise and are rededicated to the cause to eliminate all gill nets from the waters of North Carolina as a conservation measure to protect our marine fisheries and the other aquatic life in our sounds and estuaries."

CFRG officials have declined further comment regarding the news release.

Follow the fight for protection of the state's saltwater fisheries on the dedicated Gamefish Status page! Be sure to let us know what you think by posting your thoughts in the Gamefish Bill forum.

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