A meeting set for this week will put the issue of resource protection versus gear restrictions on the shrimping industry up for debate.
The five advisory committees to the North Carolina Marine Fisheries Commission will meet jointly on Jan. 17 at the New Bern Riverfront Convention Center to receive public comment on a petition for rulemaking that would, if adopted, impact shrimp trawl fishing in most North Carolina waters.
The North Carolina Wildlife Federation submitted the petition on Nov. 2, and the commission has 120 days from that date to grant or deny the request that calls for stricter regulations for shrimp trawling and the shrimp season as a means to better protect habitat for juvenile finfish.
The petition asks the commission to designate all coastal fishing waters not already designated as nursery areas as special secondary nursery areas, including the ocean out to three miles. It also calls for establishing clear criteria for the opening of shrimp season and defining the type of gear and how and when gear may be used in special secondary nursery areas (SSNAs) during shrimp season.
The Wildlife Federation cites the need to protect the resource and reduce bycatch mortality in North Carolina coastal fishing waters.
According to the petition, substantial fishing effort occurs in North Carolina’s nursery areas, which are essential to the development of juvenile finfish such as Atlantic croaker, spot and weakfish. It notes estimates that for every pound of shrimp harvested in North Carolina waters, over four pounds of non-targeted catch, known as bycatch, is discarded.
“The amount of finfish bycatch in the North Carolina shrimp trawl fishery is unsustainably high, and the negative impact of shrimp trawl bycatch is felt coast wide,” the petition reads. “North Carolina is the only state on the east coast to allow shrimp trawling in its sounds and estuaries. Rather than propose an outright ban on shrimp trawling in North Carolina waters, this petition proposes a balanced approach of defining the type of gear and managing fishing in areas that are essential for juvenile finfish development.”
Jerry Schill, president of the North Carolina Fisheries Association, a nonprofit organization for the state’s commercial fishing industry, said the restrictions sought through the petition would have severe impacts on the state’s shrimping industry.
Beyond the direct impact to fishermen, Schill said that by accepting the petition for rulemaking, the MFC will waste a tremendous amount of tax dollars and effort spent studying the shrimp bycatch and trawling issue.
Schill said shrimp trawling has been studied possibly more than any one gear type in North Carolina. In addition, there is a process in place through fishery management plans to address the issue, including additional management measures that took effect Jan. 1 due to the most recent amendment to the shrimp fishery management plan.
There is also a shrimp trawl bycatch study still in progress.
Schill said the petition is about an effort to ban shrimp trawls.
“Simply put, this is another attempt by anti-commercial fishing groups to ban shrimp trawls and eventually all nets,” Schill said. These groups are not environmental but anti working people.”
There has been support for the shrimping industry among the public.
A petition to Save Local Seafood has been started on change.org and had more than 1,000 signers as of Dec. 22. A letter opposing the expansion of SSNAs will be sent members of the Marine Fisheries Commission.
“Please consider consumers and our coastal economy when imposing strict rules in our state’s waters. Keep our fishermen working and keep seafood on our tables. Do not designate North Carolina waters as permanent secondary nursery areas,” the change.org petition states.
The meeting on Jan. 17 will begin at 12:30 p.m. To accommodate as many people as possible, those planning to speak will be limited to three minutes.
For those who cannot attend the meeting, written comment can be sent to NCWFPetition@ncdenr.gov or mailed to NCWF Petition; Marine Fisheries Commission office; NC Division of Marine Fisheries; P.O. Box 769; Morehead City, N.C. 28557.
Written comments will be accepted until 5 p.m. Jan. 20.