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Interviewee: B. J. Copeland

Role: NC Sea Grant Director

Date of Interview: June 26, 2016

Collection: 1997 North Carolina Fisheries Reform Act

Click on the link below to play the audio clip from the interviewee.

Abstract: Retired NC State University Scientist B. J. Copeland was the director of NC Sea Grant and served on the NC Fisheries Moratorium Steering Committee and the NC Marine Fisheries Commission in the 1990s. He was interviewed about the development and passage of the Fisheries Reform Act, and about the successes and shortcomings of the act as a framework for managing coastal fisheries resources.

Transcript: I think what's remarkable about the moratorium process--and it took us a while, I mean, we had a lot of public hearings, about eighteen of them, I think, across most of the state. I went to, I don't know how many. We went from Asheville to the coast. And through that process, we began to understand one another. We didn't always come to the same point, but we'd begin to understand one another. And so, through that process, the remarkable thing is that when we got to the end, we had about five major recommendations. And all five of those got approved by the [North Carolina] General Assembly. That's a remarkable thing. Probably never happen again! But it did, and I think it happened because we all wanted to do something.

And years after that, we had several other states call and ask us how we did it! So I guess we were, I guess we were pioneers! But, North Carolina is a unique place.. We're between the subtropical and the northern temperate zones. We're the place where the currents come together. We're the most variable place in the world on weather. Cape Hatteras has the most variable weather system of any place anywhere in the world. So we're sort of in a transition zone and we have something of everything. That's a hard place to be and that complicated what we did. We are the only state that allows trawling and things like that in our inland waters. In fact, we have large acreages of inland waters. North Carolina has the third-largest coastal waters in the United States, exceeded only by Alaska and Louisiana. We have a unique ecosystem. We have a unique social system. We have a unique geographic system. We protrude out into the ocean a long ways, in case you haven't looked! We're kind of a unique place, and so why shouldn't we be unique? We are.

How can we build a system that will work with the change of time? We thought we did that when we put, in to the Fisheries Reform Act, the fisheries management plan system, where fisheries management plans would be built based on data and would be reviewed and revised every five years. So, we tried to build a way to deal with changes that would occur. Well, five years is a long time for some and a short time for others. But that's what we did, we agreed on a five-year review cycle for fisheries management plans. And we also built in to the licensing system, a licensing review board. So that if you didn't obtain a license, you have an opportunity to do that in the next interim time. Another way to build in flexibility as we go on. But , you know, there's nothing that's flexible enough and there's nothing that's too flexible!