N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission keeps trout closure, changes shrimp by-catch stance
Commission asks for study of by-catch reduction devices over three years
At its latest meeting, the N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission backed off an earlier proposal to immediately reduce by-catch from shrimp trawling.
The N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission kept in place at its Feb. 19-21 meeting a ban on all commercial and recreational speckled trout fishing through mid-June and kept in place the current creel and size limits, but it changed course when it came to reducing by-catch from shrimp trawling.
The Commission voted to continue the proclamation that closed the trout fishery through June 15 in North Carolina waters after an extensive cold-stun kill this winter, and it voted to keep in place the 14-inch size minimum, 4-fish recreational creel limit, 75-fish commercial trip limit and weekend commercial closure in coastal and joint waters.
What did change was the Commission’s stance regarding by-catch, established at a meeting last November. The Commission mandated at that time that an industry stakeholder group develop ways to reduce shrimp-trawling by-catch by a minimum of 40 percent or face the Commission doing it on its own. At the February meeting in Morehead City, however, the Commission voted to accept an amendment to the Shrimp Fishery Management Plan that sets up a 3-year study to test by-catch reduction devices, with a goal – not a mandate – of reducing by-catch by 40 percent. The amendment will go to the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources for review by the state legislature before final approval could come at the Commission’s November 2014 meeting.
The change in the amendment was supported by the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries, according to Dr. Louis Daniel, its director.
“There wasn’t a specific reason for the 40-percent figure that was used for the target reduction by the (Commission) at their November meeting,” Daniel said. “After consulting with other states, agencies and several manufacturers of by-catch reduction devices, that figure sounded a little high without having to close areas. There are some devices and combinations of devices we would like to try, and this requires the cooperation of the stakeholders in the study. We expect to see significant reductions but were told not to expect 40 percent, so that figure was changed to a goal instead of a mandate, and the threat of consequences for not meeting it was removed.”
The Commission endorsed a plan to fund the NCDMF Observer Program through commercial fishing license fee increases. This plan was initiated by the commercial fishing industry and has the support of NCDMF and NCDENR.
Jerry Schill, interim executive director of the N.C. Fisheries Association, which represents North Carolina’s commercial fishing industry, presented a proposal to establish a Commercial Fishing Resource Fund to receive revenues from a 100-percent increase in fees for several commercial fishing licenses. The Commercial Fishing Resources Fund would provide money for the Observer Program and other projects to develop sustainable commercial fishing.
The Observer Program collects information about commercial and recreational catches by observing fishing, either on board fishermen’s vessels or from a division vessel operated in the vicinity of fishing activity. Observer coverage is required by the state’s sea turtle incidental take permit for the inshore gill-net fisheries. Without this coverage, the fishery must close. The Observer Program is currently funded by $1.1 million appropriated by the legislature in 2013.
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