I was not born into a commercial fishing family. A Raleigh native, I chose this unique way of life on North Carolina’s coast. My husband, Eddie Willis, is a fourth-generation commercial fisherman from Harkers Island. Like his ancestors before him, he carries a deep knowledge and love of the water.
We own and operate Mr. Big Seafood market as well as Core Sound Seafood, a community-supported fishery program that delivers fresh, local seafood from Harkers Island to customers in Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Boone.
Our customers care deeply about where their food comes from and how the seafood got from the water to their plate.
But today our customers – and all North Carolina seafood consumers – should be concerned about an effort to take three select species of wild caught fish off their plates.
NC House Bill 983, misnamed the “Fisheries Economic Development Act,” would prohibit the commercial sale of red drum, speckled trout and striped bass by designating them “game fish” status.
Game fish status means that 100 percent of these public trust fisheries would be allocated to one specific user group – recreational fishermen – to the exclusion of everyone else, including the public we serve.
This bill would diminish our food sovereignty in North Carolina by needlessly removing these species from our local foods system and depriving the majority of North Carolinians access to this nutritious, wild-caught product.
It is important to note that game fish status is not a conservation measure needed to sustain or maintain healthy stocks of red drum, speckled trout and striped bass. These fisheries are carefully monitored and effectively managed with strict limits imposed on commercial and recreational fishermen.
In fact, most of the fishing pressure put on these stocks is from the recreational sector, which catches far greater numbers of these fish than the commercial sector. But the limited amount allocated to commercial fishermen is dear to us and our customers.
Today we can harvest our limit and provide consumers with the best product on the East Coast. If game fish status is enacted, however, every trout, drum or bass that finds its way into a fishermen’s net will have to be tossed back, dead or alive, becoming “regulatory discards” rather than a choice and tasty food product.
North Carolina is a public trust state, which means our resources are managed for the benefit and enjoyment of all citizens, not a select few. In fact, the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries opposes HB 983 because the action is contrary to the 1997 Fisheries Reform Act, which clearly states that fisheries resources are to be managed fairly and equitably.
The proposed game fish designation comes at a time when the public’s desire for healthy, local foods is at an all-time high. Our customers do not want to consume a seafood product that has been imported from the other side of the world under highly questionable conditions. They want and deserve to know that the speckled trout they’re eating tonight was caught by my husband, Eddie, in Core Sound just yesterday.
If HB 983 passes, speckled trout, red drum and striped bass will be forever off the menu at restaurants in Harkers Island, Ocracoke, Nags Head and beyond. These select, wild-caught fish will be forever off the dinner plates of our customers and the entire seafood-consuming public who enjoy the culinary treasures our fishermen provide.
This morning Core Sound is calm, and Eddie will be returning soon with today’s catch. Our 1-year-old daughter will be excited to see her daddy and the treasures he brings her. I love this life I’ve chosen, and pray that Eddie and I – and the other hardworking fishing families along the coast – can continue to provide the residents of this state with North Carolina’s finest and freshest wild caught seafood.
Alison Tomlinson Willis lives
on Harkers Island.