A Right to Fish - The Fisherman

A Right to Fish

Here’s something you may have missed in November’s midterm madness. In North Carolina, voters approved a change to its state constitution that protects their right to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife. It’s the 22nd state in the U.S. to do so. As per the North Carolina Constitutional Amendments Publication Commission “This amendment would acknowledge the right to hunt, fish and harvest wildlife, and to use traditional methods to hunt, fish and harvest wildlife.” The amendment itself does not define “traditional methods,” nor does it address its effect on local laws concerning public safety or on commercial fishing, but as approved by North Carolina voters at the polls, the change in state constitution establishes public hunting and fishing as a preferred means of managing and controlling wildlife.

A friend had texted me about the North Carolina ballot question a few days prior to the election, noting that we should do something similar here in New Jersey. I wasn’t quite sure if I should text back an “LOL” or a “HAHAHA” but it was a pretty funny recommendation, one that had me wiping my coffee spit-take from my cellphone screen.

Of course, 15 years ago it was former New Jersey congressman Jim Saxton (R-NJ) who introduced federal Freedom to Fish Act (H.R. 2890) in the House of Representatives to protect the public’s ability to fish for sport. The legislation had 19 bipartisan co-sponsors, along with a Senate version introduced by Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) and Senator John Breaux (D-LA). Because environmental organizations hated it, and commercial fishing organizations wanted to be included, the bill eventually stalled. With all sides unwilling to accept the others, the bill died. Ten years later, the Freedom to Fish title was dusted off and attached to another bill addressing public access along the Cumberland River in Kentucky and Tennessee. The idea of passing “freedom to fish” legislation wouldn’t be so ridiculous if commercial and recreational interests weren’t so far apart. Perhaps things are a bit different in North Carolina (Honestly, we know things are plenty different in North Carolina, check out this edition’s News Briefs). But changing Article I of the North Carolina Constitution to protect the “right to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife” would not have been possible without both sides coming together.

We’re now officially in the “lame-duck” period on Capitol Hill; democrats have taken back the House, and those who lost or retired from Congress will be returning to their old lives soon. We’ve got the Magnuson Stevens Fisheries Conservation and Management Act that needs reform and has been hotly debated over the past decade, but I highly doubt we’ll see any movement there before those ducks waddle out of Washington DC for the holidays.

I can’t help but look at North Carolina’s new constitutional right to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife and see some glimmer of hope. After all, if commercial and recreational interests can form a united front to constitutionally protect their common interests in one state, why can’t democrats and republicans leave the most acrimonious and offensive election in history in the rear-view to help fix what desperately needs fixing (Magnuson Stevens being a perfect example) nationwide?

Look, I’m not saying we should, but can you imagine the strength of our fishing community at large and its influence on Capitol Hill if commercials and recreationals could find that one common bond at the federal level? If we’re expecting democrats and republicans to return to working together in the New Year after calling each other every name in the book for the past 12 months, could you lay down your arms long enough to stand beside a dragger or longliner, if it meant improved access to sustainable fish stocks?

It is, after all, the season for miracles!

God bless all of you; have a very, merry Christmas, the happiest of Chanukahs, and I look forward to seeing you personally during the boat & outdoor show season ahead.

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