Mike Marsh caught this red drum at Carolina BeachThe CCA-NC (Coastal Conservation Association of North Carolina ) reports that N.C. House Bill 353, which seeks game fish status for Red Drum, Speckled Trout, and Striped Bass has generated more than 24,000 emails in support of the measure to the members of the House Commerce and Job Development Committee. Prompting the measure have been abuses by the commercial fishing sector, through violations of bycatch regulations regarding red drum landings two winters in the past, and more recently, several striped bass "spills" that legally killed "bycatch" thousands of striped bass over a 50-fish commercial landing limit, that fired outrage throughout the recreational fishing community. The N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries has taken steps to minimize the damage to striped bass, for example by allowing other commercial fishing boats to share any catch by another commercial fishing boat that nets more than the 50-fish limit.

The striped bass game fish status has been sought for many years and started primarily in the Northeast, where anglers depend more on striped bass for sport than in the mid-Atlantic and South-Atlantic states. However, with the restoration of the more southern striped bass populations has come more intense fishing pressure, by both the recreational and commercial fishing communities.

"Game Fish" designation goes against North Carolina's established marine fisheries doctrine and law, which requires an equitable distribution of marine fish and finfish resources among user groups on a historical catch basis. Currently, the only way to create larger catches in any sector is to increase the size of the fisheries "pie" so everyone is able to catch more fish, at the same ratio as in the past. Conversely, when the population falls, the slice of the pie is smaller, or non-existent, for each user group.

But now, with closed seasons, falling catch limits, increasing size limits and everyone wanting to be able to keep fishing, along with the re-interpretation (and a more strict interpretation) of the Federal fisheries law, it's come to a showdown, a them-verses-us fight between North Carolina's commercial fishermen and recreational fishermen.

Based on the history of land-based wildlife resources and inland-based fisheries resources, few species that have been commercially exploited have been able to survive that exploitation, being nearly depleted to extinction until brought back by recreational and conservation programs as commercially viable populations of that wildlife or fish were killed off. Some species are extinct or have never returned to any huntable or fishable population. It's exactly what is happening now in the ocean, to North Carolina's finfish resources.

We are going to have to get used to closures and tighter landings limits, as have been the case with wildfowl and game mammals for nearly a century. Just because you spend tens of thousands of dollars on a duck boat, decoys, shotguns, travel and hunting leases, or on boats, rigs, rods and tackle, doesn't mean you deserve a larger share than anyone else of ducks, geese, marlin or flounder. The bag limit is the bag limit.

But wild animals and freshwater fish were "saved" not only by banning commercialization (with the exceptions of furbearers and some finfish such as catfish that can be managed for commercial harvest), but by commercial farming operations that replaced ducks and geese with domestic turkeys and chickens, deer and elk venison with beef. As commercial fishing becomes less economically viable, aquaculture operations become more economically viable. The balance tips more in favor of aquaculture, and less toward commercial fishing every day. It's really simple economics. Lets hope the crisis of near extinction that occurred within the U.S. internal landmass can be averted in the U.S. waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Sooner or later, game fish status is in store for certain finfish species, if not all finfish species because commercially viable numbers will cease to exist.


Some blame gear, such as gill nets or trawls, for problems with fisheries. They can call it bycatch problems or over-harvest of target fish, but it's really all the same situation. Over the long haul, I predict that these problems will continue occurring with any species of fish that can be sold commercially. No animal with a price on its head has been able to survive in thriving numbers - a look back in history bears out this simple fact. But, until a replacement source of seafood is available, such as farm-raised fish and shellfish, in adequate supply to fill demand, commercial fishing is going to continue in the ocean.

Now is a good time to start with game fish status for some species - and eventually for all species. I predict that this will happen and has to happen as the world's population continues to demand more and more of the ocean's resources. These finfish species in the game fish bill have faced and will continue to face crises of near-extinction, as long as they are exploited commercially. Recreational demand can be controlled. Commercial demand cannot.

Support NCHB 353.