Telling the Story of the Fisheries Reform Act

“I think the most important aspect was the mechanism of developing a fisheries management plan for each of the major species.  Now, that’s not as easy as it sounds, of course, and no species stands on its own,” Dr. B. J. Copeland, retired North Carolina State University professor of Zoology and Marine Sciences, told oral historian Mary Williford last June.

Copeland was talking about the 1997 North Carolina Fisheries Reform Act, the most significant fisheries legislation in state history, and the three years of research, meetings, outreach, and negotiation that preceded passage of the act.  In 1994, the General Assembly had approved a moratorium on the sale of new commercial fishing licenses and established a 19-member committee to oversee study of the state's coastal fisheries management process and recommend changes to improve the process. 

Copeland was the executive director of North Carolina Sea Grant during that period and served on the study committee.  The committee reviewed fishing licenses, fishing gears, habitat protection, regulatory agency organization, and law enforcement, and developed recommendations to improve the coastal fisheries management process.  Those recommendations formed the basis for the Reform Act. 

Altogether, Williford and other oral historians interviewed thirteen people for the 1997 NC Fisheries Reform Act: An Oral History Perspective project.  Interviewees were fishermen, scientists, resource managers, elected officials, and environmental advocates instrumental in developing and implementing the legislation. 

Read more at the Albemarle-Pamlico National Estuary Partnership’s Sound Reflections.


Photograph by Jimmy Johnson, APNEP

Photograph by Jimmy Johnson, APNEP

Coastal Voices Features NC Fisheries Reform Act Collection

Recordings, transcripts and audio excerpts of thirteen oral history interviews conducted with individuals instrumental in crafting and implementing the 1997 NC Fisheries Reform Act are now available in a Coastal Voices exhibit. 

Click here to go to the exhibit.

Coastal Voices is an oral history project about the maritime heritage of the Outer Banks and Down East region of North Carolina.


Oral historians Barbara Garrity-Blake and Mary Williford interviewed Governor Beverly Perdue who was NC Senate Appropriations Committee co-chair when the Fisheries Reform Act was making its way through the NC General Assembly.