Sick economy sparks more trout troubles
One of the results of a depressed economy is people often find ways that aren’t legal to supplement their incomes — to the detriment of public resources such as fisheries or wildlife.
That apparently happened this winter in several coastal North Carolina communities. Enforcement officers with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission and N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries’ Marine Patrol, along with sheriff’s deputies, apprehended a string of law-breakers netting fish illegally.
The odd part of the situation is that fish caught illegally can be sold legally to fish dealers. There’s no method in place — nor apparently much interest in asking the question — to discover where netted fish originated.
Winter netters mainly target spotted seatrout because it’s easy and profitable. During cold months, these fish congregate in shallow coastal creeks, seeking warmth. The sun heats the shallow water more quickly and attracts baitfish and trout.
That means specks assemble in places where they’re easily netted, and the temptation to make easy money in off-limits creeks apparently is too much for some people to overcome.
• Last Nov. 26, in Carteret County, two men totally blocked Hancock Creek by placing 450 yards of fine-mesh gill net from bank to bank. They landed 178 pounds of fish, including 89 trout, some that weighed as much as 6 pounds before officers arrested them.
• Last Dec. 6, in Pantego Creek near Belhaven, a man was caught with 264 striped mullet, 96 gizzard shad, nine black fish and 12 white perch he’d netted using 500 yards of fine-mesh gill nets.
• Last Dec. 8, a husband and wife from Cape Carteret had just set out 90 yards of gill net in Pettiford Creek when they were caught.
It’s been illegal for years to set gill nets in waters that North Carolina labels "joint" — part coastal, part inland. Yet these people — each of whom possessed a commercial fishing license — took the chance. Why? Because they could sell the fish legally. Commercial fish buyers aren’t required to ask where fish they purchase were caught or if they were taken by legal means. They only fill out "trip tickets" to indicate how many fish of a certain species and weight they bought from a netter.
Why should it matter where and how a fish was caught? The answer is clear: coastal fish are a public resource, owned by every citizen.
The state allows netters to capture and sell some species, but restrictions on when and where commercial fishermen can net protect the entire resource. If illegal netting is unchecked and winter freezes kill thousands of specks (as happened in 2010 and 2011), then the stock is at risk.
It’s also not difficult to understand that gamefish status would solve this problem for speckled trout or any other species.
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