N.C. House votes to make sure N.C. Marine Patrol can’t get in bed with federal fish fuzz

Rep. John Bell (R-Goldsboro) sponsored the amendment to strengthen the prohibition on the JEA.

RALEIGH — The N.C. House voted Wednesday to prevent the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries from making a deal with the federal government to jointly enforce federal regulations in North Carolina’s state waters and beyond.

S374_BellAmendment2The bill, Senate Bill 374, already contained language stating the director of DMF “may not” enter into the joint enforcement agreement, or JEA. Rep. John Bell (R-Goldsboro) proposed an amendment changing the bill’s language to “shall not.” The amendment passed easily, with all House Republicans and 19 Democrats supporting the strengthened language. The amended bill then passed with a similar vote.

Supporters of the JEA argue that DMF’s budget has been cut recently and that it will help the division enforce fisheries regulations. Opponents of the JEA caution that whenever a state takes money from the feds, strings are attached sooner or later.

“We’ve been steadfast in our opposition to JEA,” said Jerry Schill, President of the North Carolina Fisheries Association when he discussed the JEA earlier in the year. “The successful lawsuits we’ve initiated against the feds were successful in part because the state of North Carolina was a plaintiff with us. Once they start taking money from the federal government, they will be hesitant to bite the hand that feeds them.”

Credit: Sherry Ezhuthachan Oregon Inlet, NC

Credit: Sherry Ezhuthachan
Oregon Inlet, NC

The bill, which also makes changes to log-book requirements for commercial fishermen, comes after previous attempts by the chambers to either require the so-called JEA or prohibit it. The Senate’s budget bill also prohibits it, and the 2013-14 budget allowed the governor to decide on whether the state should enter into the JEA.

Earlier this year, 18 coastal legislators asked Gov. Pat McCrory not to support the agreement. Almost a year after being given the option to sign the JEA, the governor and officials at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources — of which DMF is a part — have consistently said that they are still reviewing whether to sign the JEA.

The bill is set for final passage out of the House next week; it will need to go back to the Senate for agreement or to a conference committee before it could be presented to McCrory.