Red Drum Management Boasts Long History
By Patricia Smith
Fish Eye News
Nov. 2008 Archive
The N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission adoption in November of Amendment I to the N.C. Red Drum Fishery Management Plan marked the latest step in a long history of management of our state saltwater fish.
The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission first adopted a fishery management plan for red drum along the Atlantic coast from Maryland through Florida in 1984. Then the commission revised the fishery management plan in 1988 when the Interstate Fisheries Management Program Policy Board requested that all states from Maine through Florida implement plan requirements to prevent development of northern markets for southern fish.
A South Atlantic Fisheries Management Council Red Drum FMP was developed and passed in 1990 and was later adopted as Amendment I to the ASMFC Red Drum FMP. This joint FMP, or Amendment I, stated that intense fishing mortality on juvenile red drum in state waters was resulting in reduced numbers of juvenile fish surviving to become part of the adult spawning stock. This statement was supported by a 1990 stock assessment, which classified red drum as “overfished.”
As a result of these plans, federal waters (outside three miles from shore) were closed to all harvest and possession of red drum to protect the adult stock. Individual states adopted management measures to protect red drum within the three-mile limit. In 1992, North Carolina implemented an 18-inch total length minimum size limit, a 27-inch total length maximum size limit, and a five-fish bag limit with the option of one fish exceeding a length of 27 inches.
Red drum populations were again assessed in 1998 in conjunction with the development of another amendment to the ASMFC Red Drum plan. That stock assessment showed that while conditions had improved, there were still not enough juvenile fish surviving to adulthood to produce enough eggs to sustain the stock.
This prompted the N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission to adopt more stringent temporary rules and prioritize development of a state Red Drum Fishery Management Plan as a long-term management strategy. Temporary rules were incorporated into the management plan and eventually adopted as permanent rules. The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission later accepted North Carolina’s Red Drum Plan, adopted in 2001, as meeting requirements of the ASMFC Amendment II, adopted in 2002.
North Carolina’s Red Drum FMP was the catalyst for stricter regulations that include: a reduction in the recreational bag limit from five-fish-per-day to one-fish-per day; a recreational and commercial slot size limit of 18-to-27 inches total length that prohibited possession of smaller and larger red drum; a seasonal gill net attendance requirement; an annual commercial cap of 250,000 pounds (which represents maximum historical commercial red drum landings); a sliding trip limit that can be increased or decreased at the discretion of the DMF director; and a shift in the fishing year to run Sept. 1 to Aug. 31 (as opposed to a calendar year).
These regulations have been successful in achieving their intended effect – the fishery is now categorized as “recovering.” However, the stock has not yet recovered to the point of meeting biological targets that will allow the state to relax regulations on either recreational or commercial fishermen.
Earlier this year, the commercial trip limit decreased from seven fish to four fish, and North Carolina waters will close to commercial red drum fishing Dec. 1. These measures were taken to make up for overages to the 250,000-pound commercial cap from the 2007-2008 fishing season.
New rules approved with the adoption of Amendment I to the Red Drum Fishery Management Plan will:
- Require year-round attendance in the lower Neuse River for nets smaller than 5 inches stretch mesh set within 200 yards of shore from the N.C. 17 bridge to the mouth of the river;
- Lengthen a small mesh gill net attendance season so that it runs from May 1 through Nov. 30 in all primary and permanent secondary nursery areas and modified no-trawl areas;
- Implement a May 1 through Nov. 30 attendance requirement for small mesh nets set within 200 yards of the shore in the Pamlico, Pungo, Neuse and Bay rivers and bays;
- Require May 1 through Nov. 30 attendance of small mesh gill nets set within 50 yards of shore in Pamlico and Core sounds and in waters south to the South Carolina state line, except for Core Sound and waters south during October and November;
- Modify the small mesh gill net attendance line in the area between Rodanthe and Gull Island to straighten a line and allow for non-attended nets in areas of deeper water;
- Modify the attendance line in the area of Oliver Reef near Cape Hatteras to allow for non-attended nets in deeper water.
- Requiring the use of circle hooks, short leaders and fixed weights when fishing at night with natural bait using large hooks (greater than 4/0) in the Pamlico Sound and its tributaries from July through September;
- Splitting the annual, commercial red drum harvest limit into two periods: 150,000 pounds allotted for Sept. 1 – April 30 and 100,000 pounds allotted for May 1 – Aug. 31.
The gill net attendance requirements were implemented immediately by proclamation. Other rules could become effective as early as Feb. 1.