WILMINGTON (AP) — New restrictions on catching southern flounder that go into effect in North Carolina on Friday were the product of an acrimonious debate.
Local media outlets report that conservationists and people who fish recreationally are generally in favor of the rules, which they say are meant to reduce the number of fish caught and replenish the population of the fish. Commercial fishermen oppose the restrictions, saying fears about the flounder population are unfounded.
The November meeting of the state Marine Fisheries Commission that produced the rules lasted nine hours over two days and included the ejection of an audience member and loud disputes. The meeting had been delayed several times and was preceded by months of disagreement over the health of the flounder stock.
“It's pretty serious. It has a lot of people disenchanted with the whole process,” said Jerry Schill, president of the N.C. Fisheries Association.
The commission decided in a 6-3 vote to increase the size limit on the fish, change the equipment that can be used and reduce the length of the season among other rules.
“It's the hardest hit commercial fishermen will have taken in the 29 years I've been involved,” Schill, a longtime lobbyist for the industry, told The News & Observer of Raleigh. He said the industry is considering a lawsuit over the regulations.
Louis Daniel, the executive director of the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries, commented on the acrimony during the November meeting.
“There has been an extraordinary amount of erroneous information out there about this southern flounder issue,” Daniel said at the meeting. “There's been some hurtful and hateful things said about me, particularly, and about other folks, about staff... ”
The meeting was followed by online threats and a racially charged message about the panel's vote that was posted in a Facebook group for the state's commercial fishermen. The posts were strongly condemned by Schill's group.
Shannon O'Toole, spokesman for the State Bureau of Investigation, said the agency has made preliminary inquiries into the threats.
Newly appointed commission member Keith Rhodes, who was the panel's only black member, cast a vote in favor of the regulations but resigned after the meeting. The Wilmington chef told The StarNews of Wilmington that he had joined thinking that he could be a good representative for the hospitality industry but found the panel to be more focused on commercial and recreational fishing.