The Commission, during its Nov. 3-5 scheduled meeting in New Bern, voted 6-3 to enact the STFMP, which will result in a 28.5-percent catch reduction for speckled trout. Discussion was expected to be heated, but it was not from the recreational end as expected. Commercial fishing representatives could not decide how they wanted to
meet the required catch reduction.
Recreational fishermen will have their daily creel limit drop from 10 to six fish, with a 14-inch size minimum and only two fish longer than 24 inches included daily. Biologists with the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries said that with the changes, the required reduction would be exceeded.
After extensive discussion, the commercial reduction was reached by closing the season from Dec. 15 through Feb. 28. Votes were 6-3 in favor of the plan on two different occasions, with the three commercial representatives voting against. After the final vote on Nov. 3, Dr. Louis Daniel, NCDMF's executive director, expected to sign a proclamation on Monday, Nov. 8, after which the changes would take effect on Nov. 10.
However, on Nov. 8, the three commercial representatives -- Bradley Styron of Cedar Island; Mikey Daniels of Wanchese; and Joe Smith of Hampstead, along with recreational representative Edward Lee Mann of Manteo -- contacted Rob Bizzell of Kinston, the chairman of the Commission, asking for a special, called meeting, as is allowed in the Commission's by- laws.
The STFMP and one other topic -- a possible re-opening of the commercial menhaden season south of Cape Lookout -- will be discussed, as per the request of the four commissioners.
The meeting is scheduled for Nov. 22, at 1 p.m. at the Crystal Coast Convention Center in Morehead City.
'There is a provision in the MFC operational by-laws that allows the chairperson to call a meeting or for one to be called if requested in writing, by four of the Commission members, and it is for a specific purpose,' Bizzell said. 'This request met those by-laws, so I have honored the request.'
As such, Daniel's proclamation was delayed.
The Commission is required to come up with regulations that will result in a 28.5-percent reduction. Commercial options included a 150-pound trip limit, then weekend closures, then a December-January closure.
Commercial representatives said fishermen needed two weeks of income in December, and staff members said the required reduction could be met if the closure began Dec. 15 and was extended for 10 weeks through February.
That regulation change was passed on Nov. 4, then discussion was reopened on Nov. 5, with an identical vote that afternoon passing. Daniel can release the proclamation after the Nov. 22 meeting. A public comment period is included in the meeting.
Chris Elkins, president of the Coastal Conservation Association of North Carolina, believes the Commission is still not taking the speckled trout problem seriously.
'This FMP amendment does not meet the requirements of Session Law 2010-13 that was passed in June,' Elkins said. 'The Commission has requested another law to allow circumventing the law on this amendment. DMF biologists say the reductions to allow this amendment to meet SL 2010-13 would need to be 57 percent across the board, and this is only half of that. We want the Commission to follow SL 2010-13 and adopt a FMP that will end overfishing in two years and rebuild the fishery to viable in 10 years. DMF Biologists have said a 2-fish recreational limit with a 14-inch minimum size and a 50-pound trip limit for commercial fishermen would do this.'
Some confusion exists about the menhaden discussion. This closure and some 'gentlemen's agreements' are currently in effect with Omega Protein, a Virginia company and the only menhaden processing operation on the East Coast. These were covered in a report by Daniel during the New Bern meeting, and no discussion followed.