Bill to prohibit N.C. Marine Patrol from working jointly with feds goes to McCrory

Credit: Sherry Ezhuthachan Oregon Inlet, NC
Credit: Sherry Ezhuthachan Oregon Inlet, NC

Credit: Sherry Ezhuthachan
Oregon Inlet, NC

RALEIGH — A bill that would 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 is headed to Gov. Pat McCrory’s desk. The bill, Senate Bill 374, states that the director of DMF shall not enter into the joint enforcement agreement, or JEA.

The bill originally passed the Senate in April, but the House strengthened the JEA prohibition when it was amended on the floor July 22. The Senate voted 45-2 to concur with the House language Thursday.

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.”

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 2013-14 budget allowed the governor to decide on whether the state should enter into the JEA.

Earlier this year, 18 coastal legislators asked 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.