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Wednesday, 14 January 2015 00:00

Cherokee to move away from year-round fishing

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Cherokee will institute a two-week fishing season closure each March beginning in 2016 after operating under a year-round season since 2011. 

“We decided to open it up to year-round just to provide more fishing opportunities during March when the state fishing waters were closed, but we decided to go back to a compromise with a two-week closure in March to allow our operations to catch up for the opening day and allow a new level of excitement for the opener, knowing the waters haven’t been fished for two weeks,” explained Mike Lavoie, fisheries and wildlife program manager for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

Lavoie brought his request before Cherokee Tribal Council last week, telling councilmembers that his staff could use a couple weeks to catch up on stocking and maintenance and that restoring the opening day tradition would be a good thing for the community. North Carolina’s fishing season doesn’t start till the first Saturday in April, so holding an opening day the last Saturday in March would still mean that anglers would cast their first lines of the season in Cherokee. 

Still, some councilmembers weren’t convinced, weighing in on a split vote that only narrowly passed Lavoie’s resolution. 

“We fought for years to get this season open. Businesspeople on our end wanted it open yearlong, and it took a lot of years to do that,” said Alan “B” Ensley, councilmember from Yellowhill. “How is this going to affect our revenue for that month?”

Lavoie answered that those two weeks account for about 5 percent of the year’s license sales, equating to about $40,000. But he would expect some of that to be offset by increased participation and business revenue on opening day. 

“You could do some things that would generate a lot more revenue to offset whatever losses might be,” agreed Perry Shell, councilmember from Big Cove. 

There will be a tournament on opening day and some other festivities to bring people in, Lavoie said. 

“The community’s willing to step up and do what they need to do to help,” said Teresa McCoy, councilmember from Big Cove. 

The new policy won’t go into effect this year, as businesses are already planning on an open fishing season for March and anglers have already booked hotels. And even when the season closes for those two weeks in 2016, it won’t be completely closed down. Enrolled tribal members will still be able to fish, and the catch and release area will still be open for fly fishing. 

“We stock some of our highest amount of fish prior to that March weekend already, so it’s kind of a continuation of those efforts,” Lavoie said.

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