Conservation Lawsuit Moves Forward After Initial Victory
A conservation lawsuit that seeks to hold North Carolina government accountable for mismanaging coastal fisheries is moving forward after a court rejected the government’s arguments, a decisive victory with national implications that has spawned a major fundraising effort to fund the case as it moves closer to trial.
The lawsuit was filed in November 2020 by CCA NC and a group 86 citizen plaintiffs. Among the citizen plaintiffs were five former members of the state government commission responsible for coastal fisheries management in North Carolina. In their 113-page complaint, the plaintiffs chronicle how North Carolina’s coastal fisheries have suffered and declined under the State’s decades-old management approach of allowing maximum, commercial exploitation of the resource. The plaintiffs contend that as a result of these and other failures to properly manage coastal fisheries, the State has violated its constitutional responsibilities as well as the public trust doctrine—a legal doctrine under which states hold certain natural resources in trust for their current and future citizens.
Longtime CCA NC supporters funded the lawsuit in its early stages, but in the wake of the major court victory, a much wider, national fundraising effort is now underway to fund the suit as it moves closer toward trial. Nationally known North Carolina artist and CCA NC Life Member Bob Timberlake of Lexington, North Carolina, has stepped forward to begin this effort.
“Bob has been talking with us at CCA for a couple of years now about how they could help support the conservation mission of CCA because they care about our work to protect our marine resources, and also because of his close friendship with Grady White Boats CEO Eddie Smith,” CCA NC Executive Director David Sneed explained.
Timberlake gave CCA NC an original painting, Return to Bald Head, from which limited edition signed copies will be printed and sold to support the legal challenge. He also donated two original studies of his painting that were auctioned off at the East Carolina Chapter Banquet in June. Bob also painted a limited number of remarqued prints to be auctioned off at CCA NC banquets. Proceeds from the sale of the Timberlake artwork and limited-edition prints will be used toward funding the lawsuit.
“People already have a deep appreciation for the Bob’s art, and we are honored to have his personal support of coastal conservation,” Sneed said.
CCA NC also recently presented the original painting to Eddie Smith, the owner of Grady-White Boats, in recognition of his decades-long support of CCA NC’s conservation efforts, including his support for the lawsuit. Smith took over ownership of Grady-White Boats in 1968, building a brand that has become synonymous with fishing, coastal stewardship and fisheries conservation.
“From the outset, Eddie ‘got it,’ understanding the very special connection between boating and ﬁshing,” Sneed continued. “As Grady-White developed products for the long-term prosperity of the company, it was clear to Eddie that, from the standpoint of both his heart and his business, the company should set an industry example in encouraging and supporting the future health of ﬁsheries and waterways.”
“Eddie Smith’s support for coastal conservation has never been about the recognition or the accolades, but it is still important that he knows how much we appreciate all he has done over the years for CCA in North Carolina and nationally, and for the protection of our coastal resources,” Sneed said. “It is not always easy to stand up for what you believe in, but Eddie has never shied away from putting his name, and the Grady-White name, alongside the ideals of CCA. Thank you, Eddie Smith, for being a true steward of the resource and conservation hero.”
When Timberlake was asked about his support of CCA NC’s conservation efforts, he talked about how outdoor sporting activities have always been a part of his life and influenced his artwork.
“I grew up hunting and fishing with family and friends in rural North Carolina since I was six years old. I have tried to pass on my love and appreciation of our outdoors to my children and grandchildren,” he said. “My family shares Eddie’s love and respect for the outdoors, particularly our coastal areas, and as sportsmen we believe we have an obligation to support conservation efforts so our wildlife resources are still there for our future generations to experience and enjoy.”
Notably, when the lawsuit was filed in November 2020, it hit immediate opposition from the State in the form of a motion to dismiss the plaintiffs’ claims. In the motion, the State denied that it had any responsibility to manage coastal fisheries resources for the benefit of its current and future citizens. After considering hundreds of pages of legal briefs and holding a two-hour hearing, the Court on July 28 issued an order rejecting every one of the State’s arguments.
CCA NC President Bert Owens said that he was tremendously grateful for the Court’s ruling but also disappointed by the State’s position in response to the lawsuit.
“For the State to argue in court that it has no responsibility for preserving our coastal fisheries is deeply concerning,” said Owens. “By taking such an aggressive approach to the lawsuit, the State has made this about something larger than the documented decline of our coastal fisheries under its management. There is a fundamental disagreement here about the relationship that we, as citizens, have with our government, and the government’s responsibility to ensure that we have natural resources like fish and wildlife to pass along to future generations.”
Those who would like to offer their financial support for the legal effort—including those interested in ordering limited-edition, signed prints of Bob Timberlake’s Return to Baldhead—can visit www.ccanc.org or contact CCA NC’s Executive Director, David Sneed, at firstname.lastname@example.org.