MOREHEAD CITY – The N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission took action at its August meeting on two of North Carolina’s most popular seafoods: shrimp and flounder.
The commission voted at its meeting last week to seek public comment on a draft revision to the Shrimp Fishery Management Plan. It also voted on several management measures impacting the flounder gill net fishery.
The draft revision to the Shrimp Fishery Management Plan recommends continuing research on the shrimp trawl fishery. However, it does not recommend changes in management of this fishery at this time.
Public comment on this draft revision will be taken in conjunction with several advisory committee meetings. Dates, times and locations for these meetings will be announced later. After receiving public comment and a review by the advisory committees, the commission will decide at its November meeting whether to proceed with the revision or switch to an amendment process. The amendment process includes convening an advisory committee and exploring changes in management strategies.
The commission also voted on several issues pertaining to the flounder gill net fishery, including a large mesh gill net yardage reduction in the Albemarle Sound and other areas that had been exempt from stricter yardage limits under a sea turtle lawsuit settlement agreement.
The commission voted to reduce the maximum large mesh gill net yardage allowed in these waters from 3,000 yards per fishing operation to 2,000 yards per fishing operation and to request that fishermen fish their nets as early as possible in the morning, but no later than noon every 24 hours. The motion passed with no objection (commissioner Chris Elkins abstained from the vote).
The action was taken as a proactive measure to reduce Atlantic sturgeon interactions in the estuarine gill net fishery. Atlantic sturgeon was listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act on April 6. While sea turtles are not usually caught in gill nets in these areas, there is evidence that Atlantic sturgeon are.
The commission also voted to reopen southern Core Sound, Back Sound, The Straits and North River to the use of large mesh gill nets Oct. 15-May 15. These waters closed to large mesh gill nets May 13 for the protection of sea turtles. The opening is with the understanding that all North Carolina waters will close to the harvest of southern flounder during December, as they have for the past several years.
Additionally, the commission agreed to delay the opening of the Pamlico Sound Gill Net Restricted Area to mid September. These waters are under a federal closure beginning Sept. 1, but can reopen under an incidental take permit that allows for a limited number of interactions with sea turtles.
In other business, the commission voted to:
- Provide comment for a study on whether to reorganize the state’s fisheries management agencies, recommending that the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries remain an autonomous agency under a natural resources department.
- Send a draft amendment to the Oyster Fishery Management Plan for review by the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Joint Legislative Commission on Governmental Operations. The proposed amendment creates seed oyster management areas at Possum Bay and Swan Point in the mouth of the New River.
- Send a draft amendment to the Southern Flounder Fishery Management Plan out for public comment and review by the regional and Finfish advisory committees. The draft amendment updates the document so that it is in line with current regulations under a sea turtle lawsuit settlement agreement.
- Re-elect Anna Beckwith as vice-chair of the commission.
- Move forward with the administrative process for two rules. One of the rules will require mandatory electronic trip ticket reporting for large-scale finfish dealers. The other rule will change the way Marine Patrol officers measure the harvest limit for recreationally-caught shrimp from the number of shrimp to a volumetric measure.
- Mirror the regulations implemented last year for the commercial ocean striped bass fishery this coming season.
- Direct the Division of Marine Fisheries to explore getting more flexibility in state laws for developing limited entry fisheries subject to federal fishery management plans and quotas.
- Approve a five-year schedule for development of fishery management plans.
- Approve an annual report on the Coastal Habitat Protection Plan.
Finally, Secretary of State Elaine Marshall presided over a swearing-in ceremony for newly appointed commissioner Kelly Darden and reappointed commissioners Mikey Daniels and Anna Beckwith. Photos of this ceremony can be found at http://portal.ncdenr.org/web/mf/082212-mfc-photos.
For more information, contact Nancy Fish in the Marine Fisheries Commission Office, at 252-808-8021 or Nancy.Fish@ncdenr.gov.