The Commission voted 8-1 to amend the Shrimp Fishery Management Plan, meaning any and all issues can be addressed and wholesale changes made to the way shrimp are harvested in North Carolina waters. Previously, the Commission had decided to send the plan out only for revision and reauthorization.
The main issue that spurred the 8-1 vote, with only commercial fishing representative Mike Daniels of Wanchese voting against, was how to reduce "by-catch" non-targeted fish species caught in shrimp trawl nets and not returned to the water alive.
A groundswell of public opinion followed a presentation at the last Commission meeting by the Coastal Fisheries Reform Group (GFRG) that showed the by-catch of juvenile fish numbering in the millions annually.
"The Commissioners understand that by-catch is an issue in the shrimp fishery and obviously decided that the proper way to deal with it is through revising the (Fishery Management Plan)," said Dr. Louis Daniel, director of the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries. "This will now go the full route of assembling an advisory panel, presenting several options to the Commission, and then sending it to the full slate of standing advisory committees. It won't be a quick process and will probably take a year to a year-and-a-half, and we will be looking at all options."
Daniel will begin assembling a list of potential members of the advisory panel to present to the Commission, hoping the panel would meet at least once before the next Commission meeting, scheduled for Feb. 27-March 1, 2013.
Joe Albea, a representative of the CFRG, applauded the Commission's vote.
"We appreciate the Commission voting to amend the Shrimp Fishery Management Plan and believe changes are long overdue," he said. "It has long been known that by-catch of juvenile gray trout, croakers, spots and more was an issue, and the report that came out late this summer showed this in numbers, not in pounds, and the numbers were shocking.
"We have submitted a five-point plan we think will greatly help with reducing by-catch and allowing some by-catch to be returned to the water alive without putting anyone out of work. It will allow smaller boats to work inshore with some restrictions and will move larger boats into the ocean. We know other options will come from different areas and we plan to be a part of the process on this important issue."