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FRIDAY, JULY 02, 2004

Shellfish license bill runs into trouble

By Barry Smith
Freedom Raleigh Bureau

RALEIGH - A bill that would establish a recreational shellfish license ran into more trouble on the House floor Thursday -- enough trouble to prompt its sponsor to send it back to committee so that he can save other provisions.

"The license will be out if we cannot get a consensus," said Rep. William Wainwright, D-Craven, the sponsor of the bill."

Wainwright said that he wanted to make sure that some other provisions related to shellfish lease training and fees didn't go down with the license provision.

"Because of the importance of the fees in the bill, I did not want the bill to go down," Wainwright said.

Before the bill was sent to committee, Rep. Bonner Stiller, R-Brunswick, successfully amended it to get the length of the license period extended. Originally, a $10 license would have been good for one year. Stiller's amendment would have made the license good for three years.

However, a number of lawmakers rose to oppose the bill.

Rep. Jean Preston, R-Carteret, said it would harm many poor people who go to coastal waters to catch fish for their meals.

"It was their subsistence," Preston said. "They didn't go out to the grocery store. They went out to the water and caught their dinner."

Rep. Carolyn Justice, R-Pender, said it would be detrimental to people who live on the mainland and go to the sound for fish.

"These folks go out in their back yards and pick up oysters and clams for dinner like you go out to your garden," Justice said.

Others pointed out that people fishing and ending up catching a crab or picking up clams would be violating the law.

Wainwright tried to assure his colleagues that marine patrol officers would be sympathetic to technical violators of the law.

He said that he had received assurances from the Division of Marine Fisheries that during the first year of the program, officers would simply warn violators and wouldn't issue citations.

But he was unable to convince some legislators.

"If you come to North Carolina, we're going to put a fee on you; we're going to make you buy a license," Rep. Keith Williams, R-Onslow said. "Our marine fisheries officers will technically hold you to the law."

Another fisheries bill fared better on the House floor Thursday. A bill that would allow fisheries officers to enforce federal laws won final House approval by a 87-22 vote. It now goes to the Senate.