North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources
North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries

OVERVIEW OF THE
FISHERIES REFORM ACT OF 1997
On August 14, 1997, Governor James B. Hunt, Jr., signed the Fisheries Reform Act into law, bringing to a close a three-year process of intense meetings, discussions and debates over the future of fisheries management in North Carolina. This far-reaching reform package was put together by a coalition of legislators, commercial and recreational fishermen, scientists, fisheries managers and conservationists, in order to ensure healthy stocks, the recovery of depleted stocks and the wise use of our fisheries resources.

The new law focuses on five areas of reform: licensing, the Marine Fisheries Commission, Fishery Management Plans, Coastal Habitat Protection Plans and law enforcement. Additionally, it requires several studies be conducted and reviewed by the North Carolina General Assembly for future consideration.

LICENSING SYSTEM
The new licensing system becomes effective July 1, 1999. The existing moratorium on commercial fishing licenses continues until that time. Under the new system, only fishermen holding an Endorsement-to-Sell License will be eligible to purchase a new commercial fishing license.

The only change the Fisheries Reform Act makes in the current licensing system is the placement of the Vessel Endorsement-to-Sell under the license moratorium. All existing licenses can be renewed until the new system becomes effective on July 1, 1999.

Standard Commercial Fishing License - Effective July 1, 1999
This license is for commercial fishermen who harvest fish, crabs, shrimp and shellfish and will cost $200 annually for residents and $800 annually for nonresidents, unless a reciprocal state agreement exists. Only fishermen who hold a valid Endorsement-to-Sell on July 1, 1999, will be eligible for this new license.

A Vessel Endorsement Fee will be required for fishermen who use boats to harvest seafood. The fee schedule will continue to be based on boat length.

Fees: Up to 18 ft. - $1 per ft.
Over 18 ft. to 38 ft. - $1.50 per ft.
Over 38 ft. to 50 ft. - $3 per ft.
Over 50 ft. - $6 per ft.

This license can be transferred. A fisherman may transfer this license to any member of his immediate family, or to someone who buys his boat after he retires. Similarly, a surviving family member can transfer a deceased fisherman’s license to a vessel buyer. The Marine Fisheries Commission will be able to establish other transfer categories for this license.

This license and/or the Vessel Endorsement can be assigned to an eligible person by notifying the Division of Marine Fisheries.

A cap equal to the number of Endorsement-to-Sell Licenses in existence on July 1, 1999, will be placed on the number of Standard Commercial Fishing Licenses. An additional 500 Standard Commercial Fishing Licenses will be distributed to persons meeting established criteria, including past involvement in commercial fishing, degree of reliance on commercial fishing, and other factors.

Retired Standard Commercial License - Effective July 1, 1999
This license is for commercial fishermen age 65 and older, and will cost $100 annually for residents and $800 for nonresidents. Only fishermen who hold a valid Endorsement-to-Sell on July 1, 1999, will be eligible for this new license.

This license is not assignable and will require a Vessel Endorsement if a boat is used.

This license falls under the same cap as the Standard Commercial Fishing License.

Recreational Commercial Fishing Gear License - Effective July 1, 1999
This license is for recreational fishermen who want to use commercial gear to catch seafood for personal consumption. Fishermen who hold this license will not be able to sell what they catch. This license will cost $35 annually for residents and $250 annually for nonresidents.

The Recreational Commercial Gear License cannot be assigned or transferred, and will not be under a cap.

The Marine Fisheries Commission must establish gear limits for the Recreational Commercial Gear License by July 1, 1999.

Fishermen who harvest seafood under the Recreational Commercial Gear License will be subject to recreational size and bag limits.

Shellfish License - Effective July 1, 1999
This license is for commercial fishermen who harvest only shellfish. It is available only to residents at a cost of $25 annually.

Fishermen will need a Vessel Endorsement if a boat is used in the operation.

The Shellfish License cannot be transferred and will not be under a cap.

Dealers License - Effective July 1, 1999
This license is available only to residents for the following fees: $50 application fee for new license, and an additional $50 each for oysters, clams, scallops, crabs, shrimp, finfish, and dehydrating operation. A consolidated license will be available for $300.

Fish Dealers will continue to be required to buy only from licensed commercial fishermen.

Tournament Sales License - Effective July 1, 1999
Nonprofit fishing tournaments may obtain a Tournament Sales License for $100, as long as all proceeds from the sale of fish are donated to charity.

The new law made no changes to Ocean Fishing Pier, Land or Sell, or Spotter Plane licenses.

MARINE FISHERIES COMMISSION - Effective September 1, 1997
The new law decreases the size of the Marine Fisheries Commission from 17 to nine members and the governor will continue to have the authority to make all appointments. The new commission will include: two commercial fishermen, one dealer/processor/distributor, two coastal recreational fishermen, one sportfishing industry business person, two at-large members and one scientist.

At least five commission members must be from three defined coastal districts (at least one from each), including all commercial fishing members, one sport fisherman, and one at-large member.

Commission members will serve three-year staggered terms.

The commission will appoint four standing advisory committees on finfish, crustacean, shellfish, and habitat.

The commission will also appoint four regional advisory committees, one for each of the three coastal areas and one for inland areas.

FISHERY MANAGEMENT PLANS - Effective July 1, 1998
The Division of Marine Fisheries will begin to develop management plans for all of the state’s commercially and recreationally significant marine fisheries species, beginning July 1, 1998. These plans will form the basis for future regulations for species, species groups, fishing gears and geographic areas.

The Marine Fisheries Commission Chairman will appoint an Advisory Council to assist with preparation of each plan.

The Marine Fisheries Commission will establish the priorities, a schedule, and guidelines for all FisheryManagement Plans.

The Marine Fisheries Commission must approve all Fishery Management Plans and review these plans every three years.

Fishery Management Plans will include conservation measures to achieve optimum yields and prevent overfishing.

COASTAL HABITAT PROTECTION PLANS - Effective July 1, 1998
This new law requires the Marine Fisheries Commission, the Environmental Management Commission and the Coastal Resources Commission to jointly develop and approve Coastal Habitat Protection Plans for wetlands, spawning areas, threatened/endangered species habitat, primary and secondary nursery areas, shellfish beds, submerged aquatic vegetation and outstanding resource waters.

All Coastal Habitat Protection Plans are to be completed by July 1, 2003, and must be reviewed every five years.

All regulatory actions by the Marine Fisheries Commission, the Environmental Management Commission and the Coastal Resources Commission must be consistent with approved Coastal Habitat Protection Plans.

LAW ENFORCEMENT - Effective September 1, 1997
People who violate fisheries laws will face stricter criminal and civil penalties.

The new law establishes civil penalties of up to $10,000 for buying or selling fish illegally.

The Marine Fisheries Commission must develop a violation point system and submit it to the Joint Legislative Study Commission on Seafood and Aquaculture by July 1, 1999.

SEAFOOD AND AQUACULTURE STUDIES
The Fisheries Reform Act requires the Joint Legislative Study Commission on Seafood and Aquaculture to conduct a number of studies and report their findings to the General Assembly in 1998. These studies are listed below:

Feasibility of a Coastal Recreational Fishing License

Feasibility of a Commercial Fishing Crew License

Enhancement and management of shellfish

Feasibility of licensing for students harvesting shellfish

Establishment of a program to acquire, preserve, and protect coastal fisheries habitat

Procedures and rules used by the Moratorium License Appeals Panel

The Joint Legislative Study Commission on Seafood and Aquaculture is also scheduled to review a performance audit of the Division of Marine Fisheries. The State Auditor is scheduled to submit this report by February 1, 1998.

This overview was prepared by the
North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries
P.O. Box 769
Morehead City, North Carolina 28557
252-726-7021 or 1-800-682-2632