CAMAgram - Fall 2004
N.C. environmental commissions review historic Coastal Habitat Protection Plan at joint meeting in Raleigh
Members of North Carolina’s three main environmental commissions met Sept. 9 in Raleigh to review and discuss a historic plan designed to change the way the state protects special places along the coast that are critical to the survival of flounder, oysters, red drum and other marine creatures.
“This is an important day in North Carolina’s efforts to manage its natural resources,” said Bill Ross, secretary of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, before presenting the proposed Coastal Habitat Protection Plan, or CHPP, to the Environmental Management, Coastal Resources and Marine Fisheries commissions.
Required by the Fisheries Reform Act passed by the N.C. General Assembly in 1997 as a way to recover slumping fish stocks, the draft CHPP describes critical habitats where marine fish and shellfish feed, spawn and grow. It also details the threats to those habitats and outlines four broad goals that need to be reached in order to protect and enhance each habitat. The drafters of the CHPP were guided by a committee comprised of members from each of the three commissions.
The legislation also directed, for the first time, the three commissions to cooperate to carry out the goals outlined in the plan.
“We’ll never entirely get away from each commission operating in its own area,” Ross said, “but we have to start thinking in a broader way if we’re to meet the goals in the plan.”
To start that process, members met in a rare joint session to receive formally the draft plan from the state agencies that wrote it. The plan has been the subject of 20 public meetings across the state during the past two years. The three commissions have until the end of the year to adopt the plan and then must devise coordinated strategies to meet its goals.
The panels have their work cut out for them, Ross noted. “My message is we the people of North Carolina have a problem and you – the commissions, we who work with the agencies and everyone who lives in, works in and recreates in North Carolina – are a crucial part of the solution.”
Mike Street, chief of the Habitat Protection Section of the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries, detailed some of those problems. The draft CHPP, he told the commission members, describes six types of critical marine habitats – the water, wetlands, underwater sea grasses, and water bottoms made up of shell, mud, sand or rock. Many types of fish and shellfish rely on more than one type of habitat during their lifetimes.
“All habitats are interconnected,” Street said. “It’s the system that produces fish. So we have to focus on the entire ecosystem.”
Some of the habitats have been severely stressed, with dire consequences for the creatures that depend on them, according to Street. Oysters, for instance, need water bottoms made of shell, usually of other oyster shells. But oyster dredging more than 100 years ago decimated many of the state’s shell bottoms, and oyster harvests have been in a slow decline since. Commercial catches are now at historic lows.
Stormwater runoff contains sediment that clouds the water, affecting the growth of underwater grasses that are crucial to the survival of bay scallops and the young of many fish species, according to Street, who said the runoff can also contain bacteria, making oysters and clams unsafe to eat. Some fishing practices, such as mechanical oyster dredging, can dig up sea grass beds and create clouds of turbidity.
To protect and enhance those habitats, the draft CHPP includes a set of broad goals with specific recommendations related to each goal. The four broad goals are to:
Barbara Garrity-Blake, a member of the Marine Fisheries Commission, chaired the Intercomission Review Committee that fashioned the goals and recommendations. Improving the effectiveness of existing rules, she said, was the major concern of the people who attended the public meetings, and the Strategic Habitat Areas are those “super habitats” that deserve particular attention.
“That goal recognizes that, though all fish habitats are important, there are some areas that are especially important,” Garrity-Blake said. “So let’s concentrate on those areas.”
Reaching those goals won’t always require new rules, said Ross, who offered the commission members a far-ranging list of suggested steps his department could take that require no new rules. Coordinating enforcement among the department’s agencies, issuing an annual report on the status of the CHPP, mapping underwater grass beds and oyster shell bottoms and working to better educate the public about the importance of fish habitats are just some of those steps.
“If there is a problem, a threat, we can do something about it now,” he said. “We thought this is a way to get the ball rolling.”
The commission members were generally receptive to the goals outlined in the draft CHPP. The three commissions will probably adopt them, said Dr. David Moreau, chairman of the Environmental Management Commission. “I really haven’t heard any negative comments about it,” he said.
The trick will be turning the enthusiasm generated at the September meeting into a working plan that protects those special places, said Jimmy Johnson, chairman of the Marine Fisheries Commission.
“This is a tremendous opportunity,” Johnson said. “We’ve got to build on the momentum over the next three months and take the steps to make this work.
The commissions are required to adopt a final version of the plan by Dec. 31. The CRC will officially adopt the CHPP at a meeting on Dec. 3 at the Craven County Agricultural Bldg., 300 Industrial Drive in New Bern. The meeting will begin at 10:30 a.m.
To learn more about the CHPP or to download a copy of the plan, visit www.ncfisheries.net, or call the Division of Marine Fisheries at 252-726-7021 or 800-682-2632.
Want to comment on the plan?
The N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources will continue to accept public comment on the draft CHPP through the end of this year. Citizens have a number of avenues to comment on the plan:
· Written comments may be submitted to the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries Habitat Protection Section, P.O. Box 769, Morehead City N.C. 28557.
· Comments may also be submitted to DMF via email at email@example.com.
· Call DMF at 800-682-2632 or 252-726-7021, and ask for the CHPP office.
· Comments may be submitted directly to members of the Environmental Management Commission through Nov. 15. More information is available at theN.C. Division of Water Quality web site.
List of actions DENR is considering to begin implementation of the CHPP
Presented Sept. 9, 2004
GOAL 1: IMPROVE THE EFFECTIVENESS OF EXISTING RULES AND PROGRAMS PROTECTING FISH HABITATS
1. Beginning in the fourth quarter of 2004, the Divisions of Coastal Management, Land Resources, Water Resources, Marine Fisheries, Shellfish Sanitation, Water Quality hold quarterly meetings on proposed projects and enforcement cases that are or may be subject to the permitting or enforcement jurisdiction of the programs of more than one of the listed divisions, and invite other state and federal agencies to participate as appropriate.
2. Beginning in 2006, issue an annual report on status and trends in the six critical fisheries habitats.
3. By July 1, 2005, develop and make available an educational program on the value of and threats to critical fisheries habitats.
4. Make protection and restoration of critical fisheries habitats a priority of the parts of the One North Carolina Naturally initiative that are directed at setting aside special places and at encouraging conservation on private lands.
5. Make protection and restoration of critical fisheries habitats a priority of state agency requests to Natural Heritage and Clean Water Management Trust Funds.
6. Develop a suite of indicators of estuarine and near coastal health by 2007.
7. Through the Museum of Natural Sciences, work in partnership with several local universities to obtain grant funding for the purpose of studying how students most effectively learn science; and then used lessons learned to increase the effectiveness of programs that teach science, especially the science of critical fisheries habitats and coastal ocean ecosystems, at the museum, the three aquariums, the zoo, coastal reserves, educational state forests, state parks, environmental education centers, and the public schools.
GOAL 2: IDENTIFY, DESIGNATE AND PROTECT STRATEGIC HABITAT AREAS
1. Map all SAV in coastal waters north of Snows Cut within five years.
2. Map all oyster and hard clam resources in coastal waters from Calabash through Croatan and Roanoke Sounds in waters 12 feet and less in depth within four years.
3. Identify Strategic Habitat Areas and evaluate possible strategies for designating and protecting them through a phased process that builds on sound science, stakeholder participation, university assistance, and pilot projects. Devise the process within one year and complete the pilot project work by June 30, 2007.
4. Coordinate this goal with the implementation of the Recreational Saltwater Fishing License program.
GOAL 3: ENHANCE HABITAT AND PROTECT IT FROM PHYSICAL IMPACTS
1. Continue the expansion of the Division of Marine Fisheries’ oyster restoration and estuary sanctuary efforts through additional projects like the recently completed Middle Bay Sanctuary.
2. Work with the Corps of Engineers and the Department of Transportation on innovative mitigation projects and an appropriate crediting system for them under the Ecosystem Enhancement Program. Such projects may include the protection and restoration of submerged aquatic vegetation sites and the removal of certain dams, such as the dam at Carbonton on the Deep River. Such projects will have to pass muster with all EEP partners and requirements.
3. Investigate, through consultation among the Divisions of Water Resources and the Marine Fisheries, the Secretary’s Office, and the Office of State Budget and Management, the use of the unobligated balance from completed water resources projects for navigation, water management, or stream restoration projects of particular importance to commercial fishing in NC.
4. Support public and citizen based projects, such as oyster shell recycling, that have important public education and resource enhancement potential.
GOAL 4: ENHANCE AND PROTECT WATER QUALITY
1. Enhance dependable water quality monitoring in the following ways:
a. Invest $125,000 in Neuse Estuary Modmon
b. Invest $ 75,000 to continue Ferrymon
2. Pursue legislative authority in 2005 for the wastewater loan program to allow a reduced interest rate (that is, 0% instead of the current 2.36 percent) for applicants which are coastal counties with stressed economies and which propose to clean up a wastewater discharge that flows directly to critical fisheries habitats in an estuary.
3. Pursue legislative authority in 2005 to allow local governments to use SRF loans at a reduced rate of interest (that is, 0 percent instead of the current 2.36 percent) for stormwater pollution control projects that are or may alleviate a significant adverse effect on critical fisheries habitats in an estuary.
4. Allow use of buffer credit payments for SRF loan repayments to provide financial incentives for local governments to initiate stormwater pollution control projects that will directly protect or restore critical fisheries habitats. (It may be possible to leverage at least $10 million from this fund with repayments from annual receipts.)
5. Revise the stormwater BMP manual to update recommended practices for management of post-construction stormwater runoff.
6. Work with the Department of Transportation to focus and prioritize some of DOT’s stormwater outfall mapping efforts on areas near critical fisheries habitats.
7. Develop a comprehensive monitoring plan for the estuarine system by 2007
ALL GOALS: ACTIONS THAT WILL ADVANCE TWO OR MORE GOALS
1. Have each DENR division and office include in its budget proposals for the next biennium (FY ‘05-’07) a request for the resources it will need to implement the recommendations of the CHPP.
CRC member resigns
Bob Barnes, a member of the Coastal Resources Commission since 1996, will resign from the commission effective Dec. 31.
“During the past eight years, I have enjoyed working with some wonderful commissioners and advisory council members as well as the citizens of the coastal counties of North Carolina,” Barnes said. “My sincere thanks to the Governor’s Office, DENR and all whom I have had the pleasure to work with during my tenure.”
Barnes’ term on the commission officially expired in June of this year; however, he has continued to serve as a CRC member as new commissioners have not yet been appointed by the Governor’s Office.
New permanent rules adopted by CRC in June
The Coastal Resources Commission adopted three permanent rules at its June meeting:
To download the rules, go towww.nccoastalmanagement.net/Rules/2004.htm
Gov. Easley announces streamlined environmental permitting,
· Preliminary review. Staff from the divisions of Coastal Management, Water Quality, Air Quality, Land Resources and other DENR agencies will review every permit application for general completeness within the first two weeks of receipt. Following this initial review, the agency will promptly notify applicants who have submitted incomplete applications and provide immediate approval of straightforward applications that meet all requirements.
· Keeping place in line. Permit applicants who respond in a timely manner when an application is returned by staff (for correction or additional information) will keep their place in line, rather than dropping to the bottom of the applicant pile.
· Avoiding “last minute” permit returns. Permit staff cannot return an application (for correction or additional information) within two weeks of a program’s maximum allowed days for permit review without approval from their division director.
Technical assistance. DENR will work to improve the quality of permit submittals through cooperation with the Association of Professional Engineers of North Carolina. High quality applications are essential to timely permit completion. According to agency records, as many as 25 percent of initial permit submittals are incomplete in some programs.
Bald Head Island recognized by National Audubon Society
Bald Head Island was recognized by the National Audubon Society as a North Carolina Important Bird Area (IBA) at ceremonies on the island Sept. 11. The recognition by the National Audubon Society signifies the island as one of the places most vital for breeding, migrating, and over-wintering birds.
Chris Canfield, executive director of Audubon North Carolina, presented commemorative plaques to Coastal Management, the Mitchell family/Bald Head Island Limited, the Bald Head Island Conservancy, Middle Island Plantation, and the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation in recognition of their involvement in the care and protection of the island’s natural resources.
Paula May, Research Biologist in Wilmington, accepted the plaque on behalf of Coastal Management. The island is home to Bald Head Woods, one of DCM’s 10 coastal reserve sites.
At the confluence of the Cape Fear River and the Atlantic Ocean, Bald Head Island and the larger Smith Island complex are the state's southern-most reaches of some of the most critical habitats for coastal birds. The area includes one of the state's largest and best examples of maritime forests, supporting the state's largest population of breeding painted buntings.
Thousands of shorebirds stop over during migration and winter in the area, utilizing extensive tidal flats, marshes, and beach. As many as 15,000 pairs of White Ibises, approximately 10 percent of the North American population, nest on nearby Battery Island, an Audubon-managed sanctuary. These birds forage in the marshes, freshwater ponds and tidal creeks of the island complex.
The U.S. Department of Commerce will hold three public meetings in early December to receive comments on the operation and management of the North Carolina National Estuarine Research Reserves.
The federal agency is holding the meetings in conjunction with its annual review of the four North Carolina sites that are part of the National Estuarine Research Reserve program: Currituck Banks on the Outer Banks, Rachel Carson near Beaufort, and Masonboro Island and Zeke’s Island near Wilmington.
Each meeting will begin at 7 p.m. The schedule follows:
For additional information, contact Coastal Management Director Charles Jones at 252-808-2808.
The N.C. Coastal Reserves have again received a $555,000 grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to benefit the state’s four National Estuarine Research Reserves. Some of the funds will be used for training sessions for realtors, local government officials, land-use managers and other groups.
The remaining money will be spent on other research, coordination and educational efforts at the Currituck Banks, Rachel Carson, Masonboro Island and Zeke’s Island reserves.
A portion of the grant will help fund a project studying the natural history of the Currituck Banks reserve. Michele Droszcz, the reserves’ northern sites manager, hopes to use aerial photographs dating to the 1940s to track gradual shifts of sand and vegetation. The study will help to document how the area has stabilized since a dune system was installed in the 1930s.
Since the artificial dunes protect the area from much of the ocean’s effects, lush vegetation has grown along the dune lines and a maritime forest has thrived.
More than 300,000 boaters use North Carolina’s waterways, and their number – both commercial and recreational – is increasing each year. Clean water is important to all of us, yet many of our water-based activities contribute to water pollution. These activities can leave trash, spilled gasoline and dumped sewage in our coastal waters.
The Division of Coastal Management and the N.C. Division of Water Quality Coastal Nonpoint Source Pollution Program have created a new Boater’s Guide to assist recreational boaters in preserving the coastal region’s fragile environment and the economic prosperity it supports.
The guide includes tips for boaters on how to reduce water pollution from trash, sewage, vessel maintenance, petroleum and oil handling, and fish cleaning. Tips for safe boating are also included.
The Boater’s Guide is available for download in PDF format on DCM’s website.
The Cypress Landing Marina in Chocowinity is the latest facility to be certified as a North Carolina Clean Marina. To earn the certification, the marina’s owners have prepared Spill Prevention Plans, Safety and Emergency Planning and strongly limit boat maintenance activities.
Clean Marina is a voluntary program that began in the summer of 2000. Marina operators who choose to participate must complete an evaluation form about their use of specific best management practices.
If a marina meets criteria developed by N.C. Marine Trades Services and the Division of Coastal Management, it will be designated as a Clean Marina. Such marinas will be eligible to fly the Clean Marina flag and use the logo in their advertising. The flags will signal to boaters that a marina cares about the cleanliness of area waterways.
The N.C. Clean Marina program is a partnership between Marine Trades Services, the N.C. Marine Trade Association, the Division of Coastal Management, the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary and N.C. Big Sweep.
North Carolina has joined 18 other coastal states in pledging to voluntarily commit to uphold federal BEACH Act water monitoring standards, monitoring practices, and public notification procedures. The Clean Beaches Council initiated the national pledge campaign this summer.
“North Carolina has a long history of valuing and protecting our coastal resources, which play a critical role in both our economy and the lifestyle that makes our state so attractive to residents and visitors,” DENR Secretary Bill Ross said in a letter to the CBC. Since 1997, the state has performed comprehensive testing of our coastal waters to protect the health of the many residents and visitors who enjoy them.
“We have been in full compliance of the monitoring and notification aspects of the BEACH Act guidance issued by EPA since the fall of 2002,” Ross said. “The division that implements the program has the rules in place to monitor the beaches and notify the public in full compliance with EPA guidance.”
The 2000 BEACH Act requires all coastal states and territories to formally adopt the 1986 EPA water quality criteria and adhere to strict water quality monitoring and public notification policies. On July 1, as required by the BEACH Act, the U.S. EPA released a proposed rule to establish water quality criteria for bacteria in costal recreational waters in select states and territories.
Legislation passed during the 2004 Short Session provides the state with an extraordinary two-year opportunity to conserve some of the most critical threatened areas in our state. The General Assembly provided authorization for the Natural Heritage Trust Fund, the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund and the Clean Water Management Trust Fund to finance land acquisition projects that are critical for the expansion of our state park system and our gamelands, as well as for compatible use around our military bases. The legislation authorizes the state to issue $32 million in bonds for Fiscal Year 2005 and $13 million for Fiscal Year 2006.
Ocean Policy Report
Federal Oceans Bills
The bill would establish a national ocean policy to protect, maintain and restore the health of marine ecosystems. The Senate Commerce Committee passed the bill a few days after the commission's final report was submitted to Congress and the White House. Proponents of the legislation say there is a slim chance the bill will be taken up by the Senate without White House encouragement.
Following is the schedule for regular meetings of the Coastal Resources Commission in 2005:
At its August 2004 meeting, the commission voted to change the days of regular CRC and CRAC meetings from Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday to Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. The change will begin with the January 2005 meeting and will not apply to meetings during a holiday week.
By Ann Chelminski, MD, MPH and Mina Shehee, Ph.D.
What’s red and and white with spikes all over? While this might sound like the beginning of a children’s joke, the recent discovery of red lionfish (Pterois volitans) off the U.S. Atlantic coast is no laughing matter. This fish possesses venomous protruding spines that can cause a very painful, but rarely lethal, sting. Native to Indo-Pacific waters, the lionfish is a popular aquarium pet in the United States. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), in the past few years, these fish have been observed at shipwreck sites along the North Carolina coast. The sighting of lionfish may represent the first successful Pacific marine fish introduction into Atlantic waters.
The lionfish is a member of the familyScorpaenidae, a large group of slow-moving, mostly tropical coral reef predatory fish. It is a very unique reef fish averaging one-half to one pound in weight, and six to 12 inches in length, with distinctive red, maroon, and white stripes, fanning fins, and protruding spines. Its venom is injected through the spines. Lionfish venom is less potent than that of scorpionfish or stonefish (which can be lethal). The fish is usually found in tropical (> 70oF) coral reefs in the Indian and Pacific oceans, Red and Arabian seas, and Indonesia. It can be found from the surface to depths of 50 meters. It is an active hunter and prefers to hide in crevices and caves of the reef feeding on shrimp, crabs, and small fish. The lionfish ambushes its prey by immobilizing or spearing them with its spines. This plumage of spines is also a great deterrent to any potential predators.
Divers, commercial fishermen and others who do recreational activities on the continental shelf are most at risk from lionfish stings.
A biological introduction is the successful incorporation of a non-native species into a naïve habitat. The introduction may be as a result of natural or man-made processes. Human-caused introductions may be due to intentional or accidental transport and release of an exotic species with a range of implications spanning from benign to disastrous. In order for an introduction to be successful, the species must be able to survive, reproduce, and disperse. Most introductions fail because of biological and physical limitations of the species.
The lionfish may have been introduced through an accidental release from an aquarium. Most sightings of lionfish in the western Atlantic Ocean have been observed and documented by divers from Florida to New York. North Carolina lionfish sightings have been south of Cape Hatteras. From 2000 to 2002, 49 lionfish were sighted at wreck and hard bottom sites off the coast of North Carolina. Most of these observations were of adult lionfish, living at depths of 30 to 40 meters, and 40 kilometers off shore in the Gulf Stream. In August 2004, NOAA researchers surveyed North Carolina coastal waters and found 80 specimens of lionfish. Researchers found both captured juveniles and pregnant females indicating a successful introduction during the preliminary stages of this investigation.
Unfortunately, if an exotic species is successfully introduced, it is usually difficult to control or eradicate.
A biological introduction of non-native species, regardless of intent, may have harmful ecologic effects and impact ecosystems by altering competition, predation, or other types of species interactions. In addition, some introductions may directly or indirectly affect human health and local economies (e.g., fisheries). Lionfish may successfully out-compete native snapper and grouper fish due to over-fishing pressures. No natural predator is known for the lionfish.
See the NOAA Web site for further information regarding lionfish.
Anti-pollutant “sponge” tested near RI beaches
CA Ocean Policy Plan
NOAA funds study of Asian oysters in Chesapeake