MOREHEAD CITY | The commercial red drum season reopened this week in North Carolina coastal waters but with stricter harvest limits than last year.
The N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission agreed at its August meeting to approve plans by Division of Marine Fisheries Director Louis Daniel to reopen the season Sept. 1 with a lower bycatch allowance.
Commercial fishermen will be allowed a seven-fish-per day bycatch allowance, so long as the weight of flounder, striped mullet, bluefish or black drum on board exceeds the weight of the red drum, according to information from the Division of Marine Fisheries.
For the past several years, the allowance has been 10 fish and any finfish species except menhaden could serve as the target species.
Red drum is a bycatch fishery in North Carolina. Commercial fishermen are not allowed to target red drum but are allowed to keep a certain amount of red drum when caught incidentally with targeting other species.
The 2014-15 season opens Sept. 1 after a long closure that was implemented after the red drum commercial harvest limit was exceeded last fall. Commercial fishermen landed 263,072 pounds between Sept. 1 and Nov. 23, 2013, exceeding the cap by 13,072 pounds.
While commercial fishermen said they saw a large abundance of red drum in the local waters and deny implications of hurting the resource, concerns have been raised by Coastal Conservation Association about the large overage and the possibility of illegal targeting of red drum by commercial fishermen.
The plans approved by the commission will allow commercial fishermen to keep some of the red drum they catch. Since the season closed Nov. 23, any red drum they caught had to be thrown back.
The CCA of North Carolina, which maintains red drum should be given gamefish status, recommended the limit go back to 5 fish a day, with flounder the only targeted species allowed.