Proposed legislation represents blatant attempt by special interests to completely eliminate state’s commercial fishing industry

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By Doug Cross | Pamlico Packing Co. | Guest Commentary

EASTERN NORTH CAROLINA – For every argument or discussion, there has to be a reason! Whether it is an argument of opinion, one based on facts, one based on beliefs, or whatever, there must be points from which to argue from.

In a discussion over fisheries management and practices, it has become blatantly obvious that special interest groups have manipulated data, facts, and pushed opinions that have no basis other than their unyielding despise and blind hatred for the commercial fishermen and their families of this state.

These special interests will stop at nothing! They seek to sway opinion, buy so-called “expertise,” and intimidate public officials to the point of threatening their very jobs if they do not follow along – pushing the special interests’ agenda to end the commercial fishermen and their way of lives.


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These special interest groups, such as the NC Waterman’s blog site, the Coastal Conservation Association, NC Wildlife Federation, and NC Sound Economy, will push any agenda that leads to the ultimate closure of ALL commercial fisheries and the extinction of the commercial fisherman.

They guise their efforts in new rewrites of legislative bills, like H-867 that has now been introduced in the state House of Representatives. This bill is nothing more than a camouflaged rewrite of the Fishery Reform Act of 1997. This proposed legislation is NOT an “economic bill’ whatsoever – as it is being disguised.

The bill looks to place, once again, “gamefish” status on many commercial species. This bill will result in much stricter controls on all fisheries than even federally mandated fisheries legislation. It would remove the Advisory panels for each fishery – giving political appointees (instead of the state management officials) the ability to override correct science and data, and close or manipulate fisheries to best suit their special interest agendas.

This is yet another BAD BILL, introduced by special interests, to line their pockets. This proposed legislation, if approved by the General Assembly, would deprive the commercial fishermen and their families, as well as the consumers of North Carolina, their rights to purchase and enjoy locally caught NC Seafood.

Even casual observers of this debate will ask: “How can these special interests manipulate or disguise facts and data to best suit their agendas?”

Well let’s look at that process. One of their chieftains is the “Dictator of Data” or “Swammy of Statistics” — a man named Rick Sasser from Goldsboro, N.C. From what I have determined,  Mr. Sasser apparently worked as a “Purchasing Agent” for Maxwell Farms and Goldsboro Milling.

One would ask, “How does buying Hog Feed, Turkey Feed, and associated items make this man an expert on fisheries and fishery management practices?”  I assure you, if you look at the endless propaganda, charts and data this man puts on NC Waterman’s blog site; the endless presentations he gives at NC Division of Marine Fisheries meetings; as well as relentless e-mails he sends to legislatures, you would think this man had a Ph D in every Marine Biology related issue known to man.

The truth comes with a closer look at the broader array of the facts, not just a snapshot of “highlighted or manipulated facts” that pushes the special interests’ agenda. The goal, of course, is to convince officials and legislators that the special interests are completely right, and the evil commercial fishermen are to blame for every fish not waiting for a hook to drop in their mouth.

Let’s look at just a couple of these “manipulated statements or so-called facts”:

On March 16, 2017, Mr. Sasser addressed testimony by Congresman Walter B. Jones at an ITC hearing in which the discussions of anti-dumping duty orders were being debated against countries that export enormous amounts of shrimp into this country and cause price drops that damage commercial fishermen.

Mr. Sasser seized upon this by using numbers that show how many millions of pounds of shrimp are imported into the USA, trying to make a point that the consumers of North Carolina won’t be denied shrimp even if the Wildlife petition is put into effect.

As usual, he manipulates any fact possible to turn opinion for their agenda.  The truth is that no claim was made to scare the NC Consumer into believing they could not ever get shrimp.

Facts were presented that North Carolina consumers would be severely limited — if not eliminated entirely — from getting NC SHRIMP, locally caught, locally sold, and locally provided by NC fishermen and their hard working families.

This man is in essence telling the consumers of this state he doesn’t give a damn if you want locally caught shrimp or not! Just because you – the consumer — want them, WE (the CCA, NC Waterman, NC Wildlife, etc., etc.) are going to eliminate that option and YOU WILL eat imported shrimp because that’s all you are going to be able to get when we drive our special interest agenda through.

On May 29, 2017, Mr. Sasser posted another “factual” message on NC Waterman condemning the “record” catch of shrimp in 2016. In fact, 2016 was a very good year for shrimp harvest.  For the first time in many years the shrimp harvest led all landings categories making it the HIGHEST DOLLAR CATCH HARVEST for the state in 2016.

Mr. Sasser then goes on to say that just because there is an increase in product sold that undoubtedly that means more by-catch was taken than in prior years. He does not point out, conveniently, that since the inception of the bycatch study began in 2015 that reductions up to the mandated 40 percent and beyond have been documented, not once, not twice, but many times.

When you do the quick math, this means that even though poundage capture of shrimp has gone up, the actual numbers on by-catch have gone DRAMATICALLY down overall from years prior.  NOT UP, but down!   In fact, according to division statistics, even with the record capture of shrimp, the number of dedicated trips in Pamlico Sound only increased slightly by +- 10%.

Then there is one posted, as recently as Thursday, June 8. Mr. Sasser, after the discussions in Raleigh this week, takes it upon himself to rail against Jerry Schill and the North Carolina Fisheries Association, using weakfish as his whipping board. He has all kinds of charts and the usual propaganda that has been used on this species for years showing how the stock status has done this and done that. If you look at the actual graphs, you will see how weakfish are actually recovering slightly, but you would never decipher this from his comments. Once again all the facts are not presented and only their special interest agenda needs are served.

The truth is that weakfish are a GLOBAL species.  Found all over the world and especially fished for in South America.  Directed fishing has not occurred in NC for many years ever since the fly net ban closed the fishery and gave it the “end all of solutions for weakfish” as so pushed for by the CCA and indeed individuals such as Mr. Sasser.

Weakfish have so many factors affecting their numbers that a small area, such as Pamlico Sound, has so little effect, that it can’t even be quantified as a percentage problem.  State’s data show that our numbers are the same (if not better than surrounding states) that do not have inshore fisheries.

These are just some of the examples of how data can be manipulated and misused to push forward an agenda that special interests want moved forward.  Another way is just to buy/hire data from ex-state employees, so-called “factual data” that is completely reversed from their prior positions when they worked for the state. (That is another individual for another day.)

Now, because Mr. Sasser used trout as his drum to beat this week, let’s look at another “Kingpin” of contention that these special interest groups use as their big three “POSTER CHILDREN”:

SPECKLED TROUT

IN 2016 RECREATIONAL FISHERMEN LANDED A DOCUMENTED 688,682 POUNDS OF SPECKLED TROUT.

IN 2016 COMMERCIAL FISHEMEN LANDED A DOCUMENTED  253,965 POUNDS OF SPECKLED TROUT.

WHAT!!??  You mean the recreational fishermen landed more speckled trout than the commercial fishermen??!!  Say it ain’t so!  The recreational fishermen landed 271 percent more of our precious Speckled Trout than commercial fishermen trying to provide for their families??  Do you believe you would ever hear this from the special interest groups who would use this species as a weapon against commercial fishermen?

No way! Beware skewed articles presented by Mr. Sasser and his fellow NC Waterman minions.  The facts are simple — not only did recreational fishermen catch more speckled trout in 2016, the total recreational catch recreational catch for 2016 exceeded the PREVIOUS THREE YEARS OF CATCH. Here is the data of speckled trout catch by North Carolina commercial fishermen for the previous three years:

2014 — 242,245 lbs
2015 — 126,762 lbs

2016 — 253,965 lbs

3 YR Total   622,972 lbs

To summarize, in 2016, the recreational harvest of 688,682 pounds exceeded the TOTAL COMMERCIAL HARVEST of 622,972 lbs for the LAST THREE YEARS!!!  If you believe you would ever see this presented to the public as such, or to the legislators they try to pressure and influence, — you are out of your mind!!

It’s not just the speckled trout species. There are 14 species in our state where documented landings by recreational anglers exceed the total commercial harvest – some are some frighteningly disproportional.

When you look at some of these numbers . . . the overall landings of recreational to commercial is so ridiculous it is downright scary and unbelievable. The average person should be screaming that there is no way this is fair and equitable and that the recreational fishermen should be cut back if not eliminated from some of these fisheries.  If the numbers were reversed you can believe that the recreational lobbyist and their so-called data gurus would be all over it.

The truth is that this data is also only relevant to the point it shows what has actually been caught.  It shows no bearing on a stock status or how the directed effort is affecting the GLOBAL stock of this species. It only gives a snapshot of local capture and who is catching it.  The only thing that is clear about this is who is catching more of a species in North Carolina.

It CLEARLY highlights two species especially that the recreational anglers have caught more than the commercial fishermen:  SPECKLED TROUT AND RED DRUM:  Two of their so-called “Poster Children” that the commercial fishermen are keeping them from catching.  The data also clearly supports another point.  Obviously with the huge increase of capture by recreational fishermen, SPECKLED TROUT are having a HUGE recovery in the sheer increase in numbers shown from 2015 to 2016.  The 2015 landings are 148,826 pounds. In  2016 the landings are 688,682 pounds. This is a 462% increase in one year.  

The sad part of this whole uproar is that if these numbers were reversed, every lobbyist of the CCA, NC Waterman, NC Wildlife, etc. would be screaming on social media to eliminate and exterminate the commercial fishermen!   Ask yourself, has any commercial fishing interest called for a reduction or elimination of fishing on these species by the recreational fishermen?

No! And, you will not hear it. Everyone should be allowed to fish and support interests as long as it is within a structured system, administered by professionals, NOT LOBBYISTS and their special interest-backed machines that twist and turn politicians against the common hard working people of this state.

These are just some of the points against the data that you see these individuals push their special interest driven platforms with.  Any Representative, Senator, or government official who listens to these so-called “experts” and blindly follows their charts and rhetoric without questions are either pre-determined in their efforts, or swayed by other means, which should never enter into any platform that decides the future of peoples lives and their abilities to support their families.

These elected officials should be held accountable and reminded that they are public servants!  They are not elected to push special interest machines backed by BIG DOLLARS and donors.  They should represent both sides equally and fairly.

Call your representatives! Tell them they need to examine the facts and not just follow the “noise’ that these people create because they are wrong.  Start today by calling anyone you can and urge them to eliminate H-867.

That one piece of pending legislation has the potential to combine all of the bad bills over the past 20 years – expediting the extinction of the commercial fishermen in the guise of an “economic bill.”

These special interests have nothing but the demise of the commercial fishermen at heart, and they intend to push an agenda until it has completed their task.  Lastly, tell them to look at the true facts, not the smoke and mirrors of selective date that these people present. Don’t let the people who once purchased Turkey or Hog feed dominate the discussions with data they deem factual. Make sure all the data is reviewed.

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