The podcasts in this series feature the voices of fishermen, scientists, environmental advocates, and resource managers instrumental in crafting and implementing the 1997 NC Fisheries Reform Act. 

The Fisheries Reform Act is the most significant fisheries legislation in NC history. 

Historical Background:

In 1994, the NC General Assembly implemented a moratorium on the sale of new commercial fishing licenses and established the 19-member Fisheries Moratorium Steering Committee to oversee study of NC’s entire coastal fisheries management process and to recommend changes to improve that process. The Moratorium Steering Committee included legislators, fisheries managers, scientists, commercial fishermen, and recreational fishermen.  The committee commissioned six research studies and reviewed a broad range of issues, including fishing licenses, fishing gears, water quality and habitat protection, fisheries agency organization, and law enforcement.  The committee issued a draft report in late summer 1996, held 19 public meetings across the state, and adopted a final report in October 1996 that formed the basis for the Reform Act.

Click here to read the NC Fisheries Moratorium Steering Committee Report: 

Governor James B. Hunt signed the Fisheries Reform Act into law on August 14, 1997.

The preamble of the Act states:  “Whereas, the State of North Carolina has one of the most diverse fisheries in the United States; and Whereas, the General Assembly recognizes that commercial fishermen perform an essential function by providing wholesome food for the citizens of the State and thereby properly earn a livelihood; andWhereas, the General Assembly recognizes the economic contribution and important heritage of traditional full-time and part-time commercial fishing; and Whereas, the General Assembly recognizes that for many citizens fishing is an important recreational activity and thatrecreational fishing is a source of great personal enjoyment and satisfaction; and Whereas, the General Assembly recognizes the importance of providing plentiful fishery resources to maintain and enhance tourism as a major contributor to the economy of the State; and Whereas, the General Assembly recognizes the need to protect our coastal fishery resources and to balance the commercial and recreational interests through better management of these resources.”

Click here for the full text of the Act:

Podcast Format: 

 There are 3 podcasts in the series:

Part One: Troubled Waters examines the state of fisheries in North Carolina in the early 1990s, prior to the moratorium on the sale of commercial fishing licenses. (16:39 minutes)

Part Two: Fishing As Religion explores the path from the moratorium to passage of the act.  (24:02 minutes)

Part Three: Hindsight Is 20/20 looks at the successes and shortcomings of the act. (22:11 minutes)

Listen to Podcasts:

To play, share, or embed the podcasts, visit the Fisheries Reform Act project page on Raising the Story:

Or Raising the Story on Soundcloud:


Oral History Interviews:

The podcasts were created using material from thirteen oral history interviews conducted in 2016.  The interviewees and their roles during development and implementation of the Fisheries Reform Act were:

Dick Brame, Wilmington, NC, executive director of NC Coastal Conservation Association

B.J. Copeland, Bear Creek, NC, NC Sea Grant director, Moratorium Steering Committee member, NC Marne Fisheries Commission member

Mac Currin, Raleigh, NC, NC Marine Fisheries Commission member

Jess Hawkins, Morehead City, NC, NC Division of Marine Fisheries liaison to NC Marine Fisheries Commission

Bob Lucas, Selma, NC, Moratorium Steering Committee chair, NC Marine Fisheries Commission chair

Pam Davis Morris, Smyrna, NC, Carteret County Fishermen’s Association member

Beverly Perdue, New Bern, NC, NC Senator

Willy Phillips, Columbia, NC, NC Crabbers League of Aware Watermen co-founder  

Sandy Semans Ross, Stumpy Point, NC, communications director for NC Fisheries Association

Jerry Schill, New Bern, NC, executive director of NC Fisheries Association

Melvin Shepard, Sneads Ferry, NC, Moratorium Steering Committee member

Frank Tursi, Swansboro, NC, Winston-Salem Journal reporter

Dan Whittle, Carrboro, NC, NC Assistant Secretary of Natural Resources policy advisor


Click here to access interview recordings and transcriptions:

Carolina Coastal Voices, Core Sound Waterfowl Museum and Heritage Center Collection:

Voices from the Fisheries, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Collection:


The 1997 NC Fisheries Reform Act: An Oral History Perspective Project was made possible by the North Carolina Sea Grant Community Collaborative Research Grant program.  The project promotes environmental literacy through delivery of educational products suitable for use in classrooms, public forums, and scholarly research. 

Journalist Susan West, co-manager of the Raising the Story project and blog, was the principal investigator and Jimmy Johnson, Coastal Habitats Coordinator with the Albemarle-Pamlico National Estuary Partnership, was co-principal investigator.  The podcasts were created by Sandra Davidson, Baxter Miller and Ryan Stancil of Lo & Behold and Bit and Grain, and Stancil was the narrator.  Barbara Garrity-Blake of Duke Marine Lab and Raising the Story, public historian and archivist Mary Williford, Sara Mirabilio and Scott Baker of North Carolina Sea Grant, and Susan West conducted interviews for the project.  Williford transcribed and cataloged the interviews.  Karen Amspacher, executive director of Core Sound Waterfowl Museum and Heritage Center served as project advisor. 

Additional Resources:

North Carolina Sea Grant:

NC Division of Marine Fisheries:


1997 Fisheries Reform Act Podcast Discussion Guide

This guide is intended to provide material for thought-provoking discussion that promotes public understanding of the complexities of resource management, supports the informed engagement of the public in the management of marine resources, establishes common understandings, and introduces students to resource management concepts.  

The following questions should be used as a starting point for a conversation about what was heard in the podcasts and what listeners learned about the key principles of coastal fisheries management and about the Fisheries Reform Act. 


1.  What did you learn about fisheries management that you did not know before listening to the podcasts?  Did the podcasts change the way you think about fisheries management?  Why or why not?


2.  The podcasts tell the story of rapid economic and demographic change along the NC coast that has impacted commercial fishing, a traditional industry.  Can you think of traditional industries in other places that have undergone swift change?  Have those industries retained their economic and social significance?  If so, how?


3.  The period prior to the moratorium was replete with environmental, economic and social issues.   Which issues has the Fisheries Reform Act addressed successfully?  What type of issues still pose challenges for fishery managers? 


4.  From what you learned listening to the podcasts, do you think the Moratorium Steering Committee process worked well?  Why or why not?


5.  The Fisheries Reform Act reduced the size of the Marine Fisheries Commission from 17 to 9 members and created a large advisory committee system.  What are the advantages and disadvantages in that change?


6. What divides commercial and recreational fishermen?  What do they have in common?  Are there issues they can work on together?  Which ones?


7.  What should the role of commercial and recreational fishermen in fisheries management be?  Is it possible for users of the resource to also be conservationists? 


8.  To what extent does the Fisheries Reform Act equip managers to deal with emerging issues, like fish populations shifting due to climate change or an emphasis on ecosystem-based management versus single-species management?  Can you think of shortcomings in the Act that warrant reworking?


9.  The podcasts use excerpts from oral history interviews to tell listeners the story of why and how public policy developed.   How important is it for current policy-makers and stakeholders to understand the history of the Fisheries Reform Act?