North Carolina has the opportunity to increase the economic impact of fishery management to the entire state with a single bill - H.B. 353, a bill to make striped bass, red drum and speckled trout gamefish.
According to a study released this week by Coastal Conservation Association of North Carolina, the economic impacts of recreational angling for those three species dwarf those of the commercial sector and make a compelling case for legislative measures that enhance recreational fisheries.
"For the first time ever, we have an opportunity in this state to take an objective look at how we can best use our marine resources, and economics should be a key factor in that determination," said CCA NC President, Jim Hardin. "Using an extremely conservative evaluation of the state's own economic data, this assessment shows clearly that recreational angling is a far greater economic engine for North Carolina than commercial fishing. And that engine will rev even higher with the passage of H.B. 353."
Even though the study by Gentner Consulting Group used the most optimistic commercial figures from the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries against the most conservative numbers for recreational fishing, the report nonetheless shows the overwhelming economic power of recreational angling. Recreational spending across all three species totals $81 million in the state, and supports $120.8 million in total sales, $38.5 million in income and 1,536 jobs. Recreational fishing for striped bass alone generates more economic activity ($12.1 million in expenditures) than commercial fishing does for all three species combined.
"From a commercial fisheries standpoint, these species do not appear to be very important to the viability of commercial fishing communities in North Carolina," says Gentner, who ran the recreational economics data collection program for the National Marine Fisheries Service for eight years before starting his own company. "Even including the commercial processing, wholesaling and retail sectors, recreational fishing generates 6.5 times more jobs and 12.5 times more sales than the entire commercial industry from the harvester to the plate."
H.B. 353 was introduced last month and has been unfairly attacked by some commercial fishermen as a threat to their communities. Gentner's analysis clearly demonstrates that the upside for striped bass, red drum and speckled trout as gamefish far outweighs the status quo management of these species for a few individuals.
"When you filter out the emotion and rhetoric, this debate comes down to a decision of what is best for the people of North Carolina. That has not always been a priority in the management of our marine resources in the past, but we believe it is now time for a fresh look at the facts surrounding these fisheries," said Greg Hurt, CCA NC Legislative Committee Chairman. "Do we just want to keep repeating history, or do we want to create new pathways for economic growth? We believe the gamefish bill is the path to a better future for North Carolina."