Fees From NC Recreational Fishing Licenses Fund Fisheries Projects

Jul 19, 2013

The sales of recreational fishing licenses pay for more than you think.  Jared Brumbaugh reports.

Many people in eastern North Carolina enjoy spending a hot summer day fishing at the beach or along one of the region’s waterways.  Since 2007, anglers have been required to pay 5 to 30 dollars for a recreational fishing license.  Although most fishermen are reluctant to pay, the money generated through the sale of these licenses supports local fisheries and projects that provide water access and education. The fishing license requirement was established as a result of 2005 legislation that aimed at enhancing marine resources in the state.  The Coastal Recreational fishing license program coordinator is Beth Govoni.

“An average of about five and a half million dollars is generated through the sale of the coastal fishing licenses.”

Every year, a portion of the license fee goes to fund projects to manage, restore, protect, develop and enhance marine resources.   This fiscal year about 44 percent of the overall sale of the fishing license was used to fund the grants.  According to the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries website, nearly 10 million dollars in grant money has been awarded in the last five years.

Credit UNC Institute of Marine Sciences

Dr. Joel Fodrie, Assistant Professor of Fisheries at the Institute of Marine Sciences has received about 400,000 dollars for two grants focusing on habitat studies. 

“Our lab tries to connect fish populations with habitat.  I think we all have a general appreciation that habitat is valuable. But beyond that, we really struggle to quantitatively say this much habitat equals this much fish production.”

Fodrie says the goal of the study is to determine what types of habitat are conducive to supporting healthy fisheries. The way they collect their data is by tagging different species of fish.

“these are tags that we surgically inplant inside fish and we’ve worked with red drum, black drum and sheephead. And once the tag is inside the fish, it sends out a ping ping ping and we have these listening stations that we’ve placed around the sound and around these habitats and if a fish comes close to that listening station, it’s registered that a fish was in that area. And not just that a fish was in that area, but that fish.”

The information is gathered and posted on their website, where anglers can see the movements and behaviors of a particular species of fish. 

“These tracks that we map and we play videos of essentially make the fish not invisible because you can see where they’re at given time of the day or you can see where they’re at seasonally within an estuary like the New River.”

You can find a link to those maps at our website publicradioeast.org.  Fodrie’s project is being funded through the end of 2015. 


Capt. David Mason holding a tagged spotted seatrout from the Pamlico River, NC.

 Another study conducted by North Carolina State University grad student Tim Ellis focused on tagging spotted sea trout.  The project started in 2009 when spotted sea trout was overfished. 

“Most of our fish that we tag were caught hook and line utilizing the help of recreational fishing guides across the state. We would mark these fish with an external tag that would have a phone number and a tag number on it.  We’d release those fish and essentially rely on the fishery or fishermen to call in any tagged fish that they catch and give us that tag number and some other information about the fish, like where they caught it and the length of it, things like that.”

Ellis says they were primarily interested in the movement and mortality of spotted sea trout, two important aspects of the local fishery that are poorly known.   

Capt. Ricky Kellum holding a tagged spotted seatrout from the New River, NC.

 “With mortality in particular, we’re interested in separating that out into it’s fishing and natural components. So fishing mortality is essentially what it sounds like… Harvest, catch and release mortality, anything associated with fishing practices. And natural mortality is everything else, predation, disease, old age, bad water quality, all the natural causes of death. And so we use our tagging data to model and create estimates of that fishing and natural mortality.”

The information on spotted sea trout movement and mortality will be used in future stock assessments, as well as to compare natural and fishing mortalities in hopes of preventing overfishing. 

Other projects funded by the recreational fishing license fees focus on monitoring water quality.  In 1999, a program called FerryMon was initiated.  Dr. Hans Paerl-  Kenan Professor, at the Institute of Marine Sciences says ferries that cross the Pamlico Sound are fitted with instruments that measure basic water quality parameters. 

“Water taken in by the ferries to cool their air conditioning system is diverted through a black box below deck. It has a set of sensors in it that are constantly monitoring things like temperature, pH, salinity of the water, algae content.  The data from those sensors automatically gets sent back to our laboratories by the internet.”

The data is charted so officials with the Division of Water Quality and Division of Marine Fisheries can monitor real time the water quality in the Pamlico Sound.  If an issue is detected, a lab technician has the ability to remotely take a water sample that can be thoroughly analyzed later. The North Carolina Department of Transportation based FerryMon program did not receive any funding from the state this fiscal year.  Rather, $143-thousand dollars from the recreational fishing license will keep the FerryMon program going for another two years. 

“First of all, the Pamlico Sound is the second largest estuary in the country, it’s the most important fisheries nursery along the East Coast, and equally important, FerryMon is the only monitoring program that we have for water quality on that system. So it’s really important to keep it alive and keep it working for the state.”

A total of 20 grant proposals were awarded funds from the recreational fishing licenses this fiscal year.   $650-thousand dollars was allocated for the construction of a boating and fishing access in Onslow County.  A multi-year grant was issued to purchase property to build a boating access area in Vandemere.  To see a complete list of projects, visit our website publicradioeast.org.  I’m Jared Brumbaugh. 

For a list of projects funded by the Coastal Recreational Fishing License:  http://portal.ncdenr.org/c/document_library/get_file?uuid=847336ba-c0a4-4261-99b3-caf099daf55c&groupId=38337