Commercial fishermen will go nearly a year without a red drum season following an unusually large harvest in the fall that has prompted a closure.
“Every red drum we catch between now and Sept. 1 we have to throw back,” said David Jarvis, a commercial fisherman from the Swansboro area.
Jarvis acknowledges that there is a quota in place and that fisheries officials had to close the season under current regulations. However, he denies claims that commercial fishermen illegally targeted the fish.
What Jarvis did see was more red drum in the water than he has in recent years.
“It was a banner year for them,” he said.
Red drum are harvested as a by-catch fishery in North Carolina, meaning a certain number can be kept by fishermen as by-catch while they are catching another species.
The state’s red drum plan splits the state’s commercial harvest into two seasons: a Sept. 1 to April 30 season is allocated 150,000 pounds of the annual harvest limit and a May 1 to Aug. 31 season is allocated 100,000 pounds.
The N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries closed the 2013 fall/winter season Nov. 23 after numbers from electronically reported trip tickets showed fishermen had caught 144,258 pounds of the 150,000 pound limit.
As landing reports from paper trip tickets were calculated, the harvest amount was significantly higher than that.
According to the division’s preliminary calculations, commercial red drum landings between Sept. 1, 2013 and Nov. 23 totaled 260,866 pounds, exceeding the annual harvest limit by 10,866 pounds.
As a result there will not be a spring/summer red drum season for commercial fishermen.
“While this was a very strong year for red drum, the extraordinary level of harvest during this short period was unexpected,” said DMF Director Louis Daniel via the division’s news release regarding the closure. “We are currently analyzing the fisheries data to determine what management changes may be needed to avoid this occurrence in the future.”
The Coastal Conservation Association of North Carolina also issued a news release that raised its concerns about the amount of red drum caught over the limit. The organization, which promotes the conservation of coastal resources and has a large membership of recreational anglers, makes a claim of illegal targeting of red drum by some commercial fishermen.
The association is “obviously very concerned about the significant amount that the commercial red drum quota was exceeded,” said CCA-NC Chairman Greg Hurt. “The amount of overage is of a level that confirms some commercial fishermen are clearly targeting red drum. Red drum are designated as an incidental catch not a directed fishery as was the case last fall.”
CCA representatives say the Marine Fisheries Commission raised the by-catch limit, encouraging targeting red drum, which has traditionally been in the Southern flounder fishery.
“The original rules allowed a five red drum by-catch so long as an equal weight of Southern flounder was caught. When the rules were in effect, less than five percent of the trip tickets reporting red drum showed the maximum five fish, indicating that fishermen rarely if at all targeted red drum,” said Dr. Chris Elkins, a retired microbiologist and chairman of the CCA-NC fisheries committee.
The rule changed to allow a seven red drum by-catch per day limit and then a 10 red drum per day limit.
Commercial fishermen said that where there is flounder there is going to be red drum. And with more red drum in the water last fall, there was more chance of by-catch.
“When there are more in the water it’s easier to interact with drum when you are going after flounder,” said commercial fisherman Ken Seigler.
Commercial fisherman C.R. “Buzz” Frederick said the closure means commercial fishermen will have to throw back any red drum they catch, dead or alive, which he sees as a waste of the resource.
Jarvis, Seigler, and Frederick are members of the Carteret County Fisherman’s Association. As commercial fishermen they want to protect the commercial fishing industry and the ability to harvest local, wild-caught seafood for the public.
Frederick said the impact goes beyond the fisherman. With the closure, local fishermen are not bringing in any fresh, local red drum to be sold at market.
“The consumer is the big loser,” he said.
Frederick said fishermen want to protect the resource and maintain healthy fisheries.
“No fisherman wants to destroy any fishery,” he said.
Closures affect their livelihood, Seigler said.
While red drum is a by-catch fishery, being able to keep a few each trip can mean a couple hundred dollars income. Add the red drum closure to ones in other fisheries and it adds up, Seigler said.
“You start taking a small piece here and a small piece there and it all adds up,” he said.
When the red drum season opens Sept. 1 there will be an adjusted harvest limit. Overages in the quota from the 2013-14 season will have to be deducted from the 2014-15 season. The Marine Fisheries Commission will discuss the deduction at its May meeting.