by Diane Rufino, June 23, 2019
In true government fashion, the NC House has tried to slip a very bad bill past the citizens of North Carolina and has rushed and hushed it in order to prejudice those most harmed, our North Carolina commercial fishermen and our fellow recreational fishermen, from having any time to mount any opposition to it. On Thursday, June 20, while hardly anyone noticed, the NC House passed HB-483 (“Let Them Spawn”).
The “Let Them Spawn” bill sounds harmless enough; after all, it appears to protect fish until they at least have an opportunity to spawn once, and hence to ensure a better bounty of fish in Carolina waters. At least that is what I thought when I first read the bill – as a person without any knowledge at all of the fishing industry. I mean, who doesn’t think it’s wise to make sure that fish be able to reach adulthood so that they can reproduce and continue replenishing the bounty in our waters?
The bill seems simple enough in what it sets out to accomplish:
G.S. 113-182.1(b) is amended by adding a new subdivision to read: “(8) Include a minimum size limit for spot, Atlantic croaker, kingfishes, striped mullet, southern flounder, and bluefish, to ensure that seventy-five percent (75%) of the juvenile fish at the minimum size limit established for the species will reach the size of maturity and will have an opportunity to spawn at least once. The minimum size limit required by this subdivision shall be based on the best available biological and life history data for each species.
But as I found out, from meeting with and speaking to actual NC commercial fisherman, HB-483 may seem harmless (and even beneficial), but only on the surface. One fisherman, in fact, believes the bill was intentionally written to sound harmless in order to sell it to fellow legislators as a “good thing.”
So why was HB-483 really passed? And more importantly, why was it pushed through the house with such great speed and with special accommodations?
The bill’s main sponsor, Rep. Larry Yarborough (R-Granville and Person counties), a representative from as far west in the state and as far away as possible from the coast and fishing industry, was apparently relentless in pushing the bill. He, along with big money lobbyists from the North Carolina Wildlife Federation (NCWF) and to a lesser degree the Coastal Conservation Association (CCA), worked hard to convince House Republicans to get the bill heard. And, interesting enough, when they into a problem with the “crossover deadline” which is a date where any bill without a monetary component must pass either the House or Senate by that date or it’s dead, knowing they had no monetary component, the Rules Committee met and quickly approved a substitute bill to include a provision for $10,000 of spending. In other words, special action was taken to make HB-483 eligible to survive the legislative process after the deadline.
As mentioned above, the bill passed the NC House by a vote of 58-47. There was no time for interested parties to have any meaningful opportunity to speak with their legislators or to consult relevant data and to pressure our legislators to due their due diligence and debate the issues and proposed solution honestly and robustly.
The NCWF and CCA say our fish stocks are all headed toward collapse, but those who are more knowledgeable on the subject say that this argument is simply not correct. But how are we to truly understand the issue and to assess the data when bill is being rushing through the General Assembly so as to foreclose the opportunity for such an inquiry. The problem with the bill and its rush through the GA, at the most fundamental level, is that it prevents such a debate. Another problem is that it doesn’t take into account or address habitat loss, storms, and effort shifts due to regulations. Whether there is actually a problem and what the best and least intrusive solution might be are not part of the discussions.
I asked the fisherman a question: “What would be the negative unintended consequences of HB-483 on the commercial fishing industry and on recreational fishing?” They answered quickly, “It’s not just the fishing industry and recreational fishing that are affected. The unintended consequences are far more extensive.” And that is what I would like to focus on with this article.
We, the watchdogs on government, are of the mindset (as our Founding Fathers were) that government should impose as little regulations as possible. The more regulations, the less liberty. The more regulations, the less that the free market can produce the greatest outcomes. The more regulations, the more individuals are pressured out of their livelihoods. The more regulations, only the very wealthy and only the most successful of businesses can absorb the inherent costs of those regulations, thus starving out those who are needed for robust competition. When considering passing a new regulation, government should always make an honest assessment of what the consequences of such a regulation will be, in addition to the government’s goal, and also what the negative unintended consequences will be. Only if the consequences are positive and the negative unintended consequences are at a very minimum should the government even consider passing the regulation. Take welfare, for example. The goal (at least the stated goal of LBJ’s administration, was to provide temporary assistance to fight poverty and to help African-Americans be able to migrate out of the ghettos and into a better life. At the time of the new initiative, the African-American family was largely intact. Fifty later, welfare has become a generation way of life for African-Americans, destroying their families, destroying the priorities they need to advance in society, substituting hand-outs for initiative, relieving them of the initiative to become educated, and self-sufficient, and providing an incentive (not a deterrent) for bad decisions and non-productivity.
THE NEGATIVE UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES – of the “Let Them Spawn” Bill –
So what are some of the negative “unintended consequences” of HB-483?
(1) First, the bill will require fisherman to take precautions to protect the named species of fish, which, of course, means that the fishermen (commercial and recreational) will incur additional costs – most likely recurring costs. They will need special nets, they will need to measure the fish they catch (thus taking time away from fishing), etc.
(2) Next, the bill will need to be enforced. Besides increasing the bureaucracy of government, fisherman will be subject to inspections which will mean that government officials will be needed to inspect the boats, inspect the catch, inspect the nets, etc etc. No one enjoys being under the government microscope. No one enjoys having government agencies and officials up their butts.
** The greater the burden on fishermen, the greater the expense, the greater the regulatory over-sight, the greater the chance that individuals will refrain from engaging in recreational fishing or from going into the commercial fishing industry. Already, commercial fishing is down in our state, fairly significantly. The N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries issued a release last summer announcing that the amount of fish and shellfish that North Carolina fishermen sold to NC dealers Carolina in 2017 was down about 9% from usual and was below the five-year average.
Our state constitution was recently amended, by popular mandate, to include a special protection for the natural right of individuals to “hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife.” At what point does government regulation burden the right enshrined in our constitution, and burden it to the point when individuals are discouraged from exercising it? (The right is also enshrined in the book of Genesis, man will have “have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”)
(3) Striped mullet is a prized recreational bait fish for pier, surf, and are also often used as a teaser and dredge baits for billfish. A number of fisheries in this state rely heavily on the use of striped mullet as a bait source that would fall below the proposed size restrictions. This would be a devastating blow to tackle shops up and down the coast, especially those that cater to surf fishing tournaments, some of which include over 600 anglers, on Hatteras Island, Ocracoke Island and Topsail Beach. These shops rely heavily on those bait sales during the fall months because it helps make up for the decrease in sales that comes after the peak tourist season in the summer months. In addition to surf fishing tournaments, numerous billfish tournaments along the coast such as the Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament utilize striped mullet during the tournament. Those tackle shops and fishermen would be extremely disadvantaged, in addition to the fishermen that make a living off these species via providing them to the tackle shops and fishermen themselves.
(4) Per federal catch estimates, North Carolina ranks #2 in fish landings for the recreational sector along the east coast of the United States. The state’s coastal communities are home to dozens of “Mom & Pop” tackle shops, industry leading lure and tackle manufacturers, and numerous world renowned charter fishing fleets. North Carolina also has a rich history of boat building and commercial fishing heritage. It is known that a large majority of the fish caught on various “head boat” operations along our coast are the ones being targeted by HB-483. This bill can and will end all success for these types of boats which are used by thousands of residents and visitors each year. There is science, in fact, that shows areas in our sounds are where smaller fish live. The solution, it would seem, does not rest on prohibiting fishermen (commercial or recreational) from harvesting (ie, taking home for bait or for food) them. It will not make an area where younger fish inhabit change.
(5) North Carolina’s coastline is also home to one of the best fall spot fisheries on the east coast. Piers along the coastline from Nags Head to Wilmington attract hordes of anglers from all reaches of the state and neighboring states. Many of these anglers can only afford to make that trip once or a handful of times to target these fish. When they come to the coast, they spend money in the local businesses such as tackle shops, restaurants, lodging, fishing piers and a wealth of other businesses. Their impact has a trickle-down effect with, most importantly, the bait suppliers to those tackle shops that provide bloodworms, shrimp, etc. Many of the fishing piers will tell you that the spot runs are vital to their yearly sales and that it does not matter if they are yellow belly or 5 inches.
(6) Again, eastern Carolina is a coastal community, full of inlets, waterways, sounds, and other coastal waters. It is a fisherman’s paradise and a wonderful tourist area. It is home to tackle shops, fishing facilities, boat rentals, and most of all restaurants that offer its patrons a delicious selection of seafood dishes. All of these industries would suffer from the limitations imposed by HB-483. But seafood-loving patrons and restaurants would suffer the greatest, and for reasons that are truly an unintended consequence of the bill. Currently, those who eat seafood here in North Carolina (as in other states in our country) are at risk for ingesting carcinogens, mutagens, antibiotics, unsafe drug residues, parasites, and other nasty or toxic chemicals or contaminants.. Yes, there is a quiet health risk here that no one has addressed or that no one talks about (except perhaps the FDA, and most recently, the state of Louisiana). This risk comes from the fact that most of the US demand for seafood comes from imports, of which half are raised in aquaculture farms (aka, “fish farms”). Imported seafood, in fact, makes up approximately 90% of our seafood sales and consumption, with shrimp alone making up between 90-94% of our US shrimp demand. The domestic shrimp industry today produces only 6% of total US shrimp consumption.
While all domestically-caught shrimp are wholesome and safe, the same cannot be guaranteed for imported products. While most imported shrimp apparently is safe (testing is admittedly scarce), the frequency of product rejection because of the use of banned and toxic veterinary drugs is alarmingly high. It is disproportionately high, compared to other types of imported seafood. The widespread use of antibiotics and other illegal veterinary drugs used in aquaculture ponds, in fact, has created a serious threat to global public health. For example, five of the veterinary drugs found in imported seafood – chloramphenicol, flouroquinolones, gentian violet, malachite green, and nitrofurans – are commonly used in shrimp aquaculture. [A 2014 Louisiana State University study found that 92% of imported shrimp for sale in that state, also a coastal state, tested positive for illegal and toxic drug residues]. Commercial fisherman are concerned about the proposed changes in HB-483 to North Carolina fishery policy in that they could lead to a substantial reduction in the supply of local, wild-caught (and thus safe and drug/antibiotic-free) shrimp. Precautions in the way they fish, as imposed by the bill, would affect the amount of shrimp they will be able to catch. The unintended consequence of the bill, therefore, would be that the decrease in the availability to fresh and local caught shrimp to North Carolina consumers and to its restaurants would very likely increase the risk to those who eat shrimp of being exposed to toxic chemicals, carcinogens, mutagens, and banned veterinary products. North Carolina restaurant patrons, after all, assume that the shrimp they are eating are domestic and locally-caught.
Refer to the facts outlined in the Appendix at the end of the article.
** Points (3), (4), and (5) are copied and pasted from Jake Worthington, who started a Petition to the NC Senate urging it to vote NO on HB-483. [Reference: http://chng.it/BRMD2Mhr7R ]
Until a thorough analysis of the potential risks and benefits, including economics, health, sociological, environmental, and natural resource health is conducted and is publicly available, fishermen, conservatives, and others opposed to the swift passing of HB-483 demand a delay in the process of pushing the bill further. Simple changes to the natural resource’s regulatory process, as well as changes to the fishery laws, can have significant and unintended negative consequences on the economic and social well-being of small rural communities already struggling in today’s societal and economic climate.
Although this article focuses mainly on the negative consequences to the fresh shrimp market, the arguments made are likely just as applicable to other commercially-harvested species.
WHAT CAN YOU DO? (Sitting back is NOT an option!)
(1) CALL and/or EMAIL Senate leader Phil Berger (Office: (919) 733-5708 Email: Phil.Berger@ncleg.net) and as many NC senators as you can and let them know that you OPPOSE the bill and trust that they will vote against it. If they say they are not sure how to vote, then convince them that the issue needs to be studied and that time MUST be given to do so, in order that a bad bill is not passed which will harm an industry vital to North Carolina. [To find contact information for members of the NC Senate, go to www.ncleg.net, click on “SENATE” from the top menu, and using the drop-down menu, select “Member List.
(2) SIGN THE PETITION – http://chng.it/BRMD2Mhr7R OR
(3) Visit the NC Legislature in person and speak with our state senators in person, expressing your opposition to the bill. Try to do so in groups.
(4) SHARE THIS ARTICLE, and the posts on the Coastal Carolina Taxpayers Association Facebook page on this topic with as many people you can to educate folks on this topic, including seafood restaurants. They need to get involved.
(5) Come out to the NC Legislature to hear Dr. David Veal. David Veal, PhD, Executive Director of the American Shrimp Processors Association, has compiled data and information detailing the risks and dangers from imported seafood and is so motivated by what he believes is the need and absolute duty of state government to be educated on this topic and the need and absolute duty of authorities to make this information available to the public that he has been willing,, on his own dime, to share his information and to make presentations to legislatures to accomplish that goal. When Dr. Veal made a similar presentation to the Louisiana state legislature, they were concerned enough to pass a law requiring restaurants to disclose to its patrons, and markets to its customers, the country-of-origin of the seafood it is selling. Realizing that North Carolina already faces health risks regarding the imported seafood that it sells, and realizing that HB-483 will make it harder for NC fishermen to provide fresh, locally-caught (and drug/antibiotic-free) seafood to North Carolina markets and restaurants, it only makes sense that the health risks will only become amplified.
(6) JOIN the Coastal Carolina Taxpayers Association (CCTA, headed by Hal James and Rick Hopkins), the Crystal Coast Tea Party Patriots (headed by Bob Cavanaugh and Ken Lang), the NC Republican Men’s Club Federation (headed by Bob Pruett), or the Eastern NC Tea Party (headed by me) to become ACTIVISTS rather than mere party club members, workers, or cheerleaders. Help our groups to maintain a respectful and working relationship with legislators, to keep an eye on our local and state governments, to help promote transparency in the bills they propose and vote for, and to be a strong voice for conservative values in government. Remember, as long as no one is looking or keeping an eye on the General Assembly, they will continue to sneak bad legislation past us. They will continue to curry favor with special interest groups and to pursue and promote their issues over ours.
TAKE ACTION TODAY !!!
HB-483 (“LET THEM SPAWN”), text – https://www.ncleg.gov/Sessions/2019/Bills/House/PDF/H483v4.pdf
Jerry Schill, “The NC House Caves Once Again to Big Money Lobbyists, This Time to Harm our State’s Commercial Fisherman, June 22, 2019. Referenced at: https://forloveofgodandcountry.com/2019/06/23/the-nc-house-once-again-caves-to-big-money-lobbyists-this-time-to-harm-our-states-commercial-fisherman/
Jake Worthington, Petition to the NC Senate Opposing HB-483 – http://chng.it/BRMD2Mhr7R
“Imported Seafood Safety Program,” FDA, updated 11/24/2017. Referenced at: https://www.fda.gov/food/importing-food-products-united-states/imported-seafood-safety-program
“Imports and Exports: How Safe is Seafood from foreign Sources?” Food Safety News, Nov. 2013. Referenced at: https://www.foodsafetynews.com/2013/11/imports-and-exports-how-safe-is-seafood-from-foreign-sources/
“Imported Seafood Safety: FDA and USDA Could Strengthen Efforts to Prevent Unsafe Drug Residues,” GAO (US Government Accountability Office), October 2, 2017. Referenced at: https://www.gao.gov/mobile/products/GAO-17-443
“New Rules for Shrimp Trawls Effective July 1,” Coastal Review Online – https://www.coastalreview.org/2019/04/new-rules-for-shrimp-trawls-effective-july-1/
“Shrimp Rise as Overall North Carolina Commercial Catch Dips,” Nation & World, June 17, 2018. Referenced at: https://www.seattletimes.com/nation-world/apxshrimp-rise-as-overall-north-carolina-commercial-catch-dips/
I. APPENDIX – Facts about Imported Seafood
(1) Most seafood consumed in the United States is imported, and about half of it is raised on fish farms. Imported seafood, in general, accounts for over 90% of US seafood demand, with shrimp being the largest consumed seafood. (Tilapia is second; three-quarters of the tilapia we eat in this country comes from China). China, India and Vietnam are the top three aquaculture producers in the world today. Because farmed seafood is raised in confined areas and susceptible to infections, farmers may use drugs like antibiotics. The use of unapproved drugs or the misuse of approved drugs may result in unsafe residues in seafood that can cause cancer, allergic reactions, or an unexplained decline in health. While the FDA recognizes this risk, it is able to test only a very small percent of the seafood imported into the country. And while countries like Great Britain and other EU countries would require destruction of seafood testing positive for contaminants, the US FDA does not require such.
(2) Shrimp is the number-one seafood import to the U.S. market, with most of that product coming from Asia and Ecuador. The US imports between 90-94% of the shrimp sold in its states. That means that of all the shrimp sold in North Carolina, with its greater demand for seafood meals (a coastal state), either in markets or as a sumptuous meal served by its restaurants, 90-94% is imported.
(3) Because approximately 90% of the seafood, in general, that we consume is imported (with about half of that farm-raised), those who eat it are exposed to whatever level of safety practices exist in the exporting country and onward. A chain of potential risk follows from the catch to the processing facility, to the ships, trains or trucks bringing the seafood here, and to subsequent handling of the product at stores, fish markets, restaurants and in-home kitchens. Recent recalls of imported seafood and associated foodborne illness outbreaks have combined to raise concerns about how safe it is to consume. There are bacterial hazards such as Vibrio (a parasite) in raw oysters, as well as mercury in fish and adulterants in feed and other contamination tied to industrial pollution. Recent imported seafood recalls have involved processed products such as smoked salmon, herring, and other fish products from Asia and Africa for potential Listeria and Clostridium botulinum (both are bacteria) contamination and for inadequate processing. Contaminants are a growing concern. A recent North Carolina study revealed that one-quarter of the seafood imported from Asia and available at retail outlets in that state had detectable levels of formaldehyde. In China, several antibiotics have been found in farm-raised fish such as tilapia, including leuco-malachite green, which FDA banned for aquaculture use in 1983 because of “serious toxicity.” The widespread use of antibiotics and other illegal veterinary drugs used in aquaculture ponds, in fact, has created a serious threat to global public health. For example, five of the veterinary drugs found in imported seafood – chloramphenicol, flouroquinolones, gentian violet, malachite green, and nitrofurans – are commonly used in shrimp aquaculture. [A 2014 Louisiana State University study found that 92% of imported shrimp for sale in that state, also a coastal state, tested positive for illegal and toxic drug residues]. Additionally, the intake of antibiotics when the body has no infections to fight creates the very real possibility of generating antibiotic resistance. Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) prevents common drugs from treating common drugs from treating microorganisms (bacteria, fungus, virus, or parasite). When the FDA does outbreak alerts, seafood has the highest level of illness per consumption of any of the food that it tracks. [https://www.foodsafetynews.com/2013/11/imports-and-exports-how-safe-is-seafood-from-foreign-sources/%5D
(4) A 2010 survey reported by SeaFood Business Magazine showed that, for American consumers, seafood safety was the most important factor and trumped other concerns about sustainability (wild-caught vs. farm-raised), type of seafood or even price.
(5) The health hazards posed by imported seafood are insidious because the public does not even know about its risks. The United States International Trade Commission found that 80% of shrimp consumption occurs at the restaurant level. Seafood country-of-origin labeling (COOL) exists at the retail level but it is absent at the restaurant level where most shrimp consumption occurs. And even with the requirements of COOL, labeling at the retail label has been shown to be frustrated by mislabeling and fraud. In fact, both are commonplace throughout retail outlets in the US. A 2018 report by the New York State Attorney General’s Office uncovered widespread seafood fraud and mislabeling at the retail level. The investigation found that more than one in four (26.92%) seafood purchases was mislabeled and that many samples (27.59%) labelled as “wild” were in fact farm-raised. Another 2018 study of seafood samples from 287 restaurants, grocery stores, and seafood markets in 27 cities across the United States found that 21% were mislabeled. 80% of the shrimp in the US is consumed at the restaurant level, where country-of-origin is not required. Consumers are not even nearly protected from health risks associated with imported shrimp or other seafood.
II. APPENDIX – History
The Fisheries Reform Act was passed in 1997 after months of studies and extensive debate with stakeholders. It was a compromise document with most participants grudgingly accepting the outcome. Governor Jim Hunt signed it into law.
The FRA set up a process that included a 9-member Marine Fisheries Commission all appointed by the Governor to set policy, and the bureaucratic arm, the Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) to carry it out. DMF was under the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) but that name was changed to the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). The taxpayers fund the folks to manage fisheries, and the MFC and DMF are charged under the Fisheries Reform Act to adopt Fishery Management Plans for each species. Those plans are to be reviewed and amended as needed. So why HB-483 when plans can be established, on need-only basis, by the authority of the Fisheries Reform Act?Jake Worthington, Petition to the NC Senate Opposing HB-483 – http://chng.it/BRMD2Mhr7R