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Old 02-08-2009, 02:35 PM
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Default N.C. - Gill net anglers run afoul of inland fishing laws

By Fred Bonner, Outdoors Columnist

Published: Feb 02, 2009 08:09 PM

Speckled trout anglers are notorious for keeping the location of their favorite fishing spots a secret. They don't even want their personal friends or fishing buddies to know where they're taking the trout. This rule of secrecy is particularly important to them in waters that the state has declared to be "inland waters." These are waters where commercial fishermen are specifically banned from practicing their trade.
In many cases these inland waters are in the very upper parts of tidal creeks where there's a very limited amount of space for sport fishermen to cast their lures or baited hooks. At this time of the year speckled trout, puppy drum, striped bass and other species concentrate in a small area. It makes for very good angling but also makes for a great place for commercial netters to take large amounts of fish in a short period of time. Since setting nets in these inland waters is illegal the netters usually use sink nets that leave no above water signs that the nets are there. Poachers commonly practice their trade during the night to escape detection by the authorities.
If you ever want to make a bunch of sport anglers really mad, just let them see gill nets set in what they consider to be their reserved fishing holes. That's why some were livid last week when they made an early morning trip to their favorite fishing spot and saw net floats from nets set in these restricted waters. Talking about waving a red flag in front of a bull, it appears that commercial fishermen had invaded their special speckled trout area and were not even trying to hide it.
When the nets were again observed in place later that day the anglers really started fuming. This obvious violation of state law and the invasion of sport fishing turf were getting to be a little too much for some sportsmen.
It's an old battle between the commercial and sport fishing fraternities. In the designated coastal waters both factions of this ongoing battle grudgingly tolerate each other, but to set a bunch of gill nits in inland waters, that's a big no, no.
The old political power having to do with both commercial and sport fishing lie on the side of the commercial interest. The commercial fishermen had very capable lobbyists and they stuck together when times were tough. All that seems to have changed in recent years when the sport fishing interest began to organize at the national as well as the state level. There's no doubt in today's world that the economic power of the sport fishermen is far greater than those of the commercial interest.
With the advent of the Coastal Recreational Fishing License (for simplicity let's call it what it is, a saltwater fishing license) the politics of fishing took a big turn in favor of sport fishing. With the sport fishing interest openly stating that one of their major goals was to "do away with all gill netting in North Carolina waters," the battle lines between commercial and sport fishing interest become more pronounced.
Even with the netters waving a red flag in their faces, anglers (and hunters too for that matter) generally try to keep to themselves. They don't like to report violators in many cases because of the age-old rule of don't rat on your buddy. After all they are all fishermen and fishermen and hunters tend to stick together when the going gets rough. In the above-mentioned case, commercial interest had crossed the line (figuratively and literally).
Several of the sport fishermen that had observed the illegal nets in inland waters decided to call the game wardens and report the violation. They then just sat back and let the enforcement officers from the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission handle the matter.
Reports from the upset anglers who'd observed the violation(s) were that the nets had been placed under surveillance by the game wardens and when the netters returned to fish their nets, they were cited (some say arrested) for numerous violations of the NCWRC regulations. The authorities apparently impounded their nets and took the fish that were entangled in the nets.
After carefully cataloguing all the fish that were in the nets so that the courts could place a replacement fee on the fish that were illegally taken, the fish were reportedly disposed of by giving them to locals that wanted food.
The sport fishermen are heaping kudos on the enforcement officers who apprehended the netters. Remarks such as "it's about time someone did something about illegal netters" were circulating throughout this area. Word of the apprehensions soon spread into neighboring counties with similar comments being heard.
Game wardens who were involved in this case were reluctant to say much about it because of "ongoing investigations into similar violations of the inland waters fishing regulations." They feel that releasing too much information to the public at this point might hamper the apprehension of other poachers who are being watched.
Sportsmen, however, welcome publicity on the apprehension of poachers. They agree with the standard policy of preventing a crime before it happens. Crime prevention is a vital part of wildlife management. No court dates have been set yet for the two poachers involved in this recent case so, in the American way, the two will remain innocent until they're proven guilty in a court of law. One thing's for sure though, the good job the NCWRC wardens did in this case has made a lot of sport fishermen happy.

Editor's Note: Fred Bonner, a resident of the Cleveland community, is a wildlife biologist. He can be reached via email at [email protected] or by fax at 773-3117.
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