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Managing the NC Fishery………Where It Stands Today

September 17, 2021

As we turn the corner on the 2021 fishing season, it’s time to reflect on the progress or lack of progress made with the North Carolina saltwater fishing resource. While there have been many developments, it’s unsure of which direction those developments take. Here’s what we know.

The 2021 Flounder Season

Earlier this year North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries Commission decreased the state’s recreational Southern Flounder fishing from last year’s 6 weeks to only 2 weeks in 2021. This was largely driven by the NCDMFC’s stock projection for 2020 falling far short of its goal, and commercial fishing restrictions were far less severe than that of recreational fishing.

The NCDMFC obviously believes this 14 days of fishing per year strategy will resolve the flounder stock projection shortfall. At nearly the same time they postponed any changes on North Carolina’s gillnet regulations for further discussion. Part of the gillnet controversy is centered around the extensive bi-catch that the nets create. This bi-catch removes large numbers of juvenile and breeding Flounder from the state’s waters.

CCA-NC Lawsuit

In November of 2020, the Coastal Conservation Association (CCA) of North Carolina filed a lawsuit against the State of North Carolina citing “abject failure” in meeting its legal duties to properly manage coastal fisheries resources. The State of North Carolina filed a motion to dismiss the case in January of 2021. In late August, the request was denied. This denial serves as an important step in growing issues with the state of North Carolina’s mismanagement of its fishery resource. The denial of the dismissal in most minds indicates that the CCA’s filing the suit has a level of validity.

Fishing License Debacle Continues

The North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries has continued to take no action to remedy the misuse of the state’s commercial fishing license. While most legitimate commercial fishermen purchase and comply with the license, other anglers do not. The most recent statistics provided by the NCDMF reflects that only 2705 of the 6561 reported any trip tickets in 2020. This significant percentage has been the same for many past years. Over half of the commercial license holders never submit a trip ticket. This would indicate that those commercial fishermen either did not sell their fish to a licensed retailer or caught fish for personal use. In this event, the fisherman has purchased the commercial license to use commercial gear such as nets and exceeds the catch and size limits of the recreational fishermen. Also, without the trip ticket there is no accounting for the amount of fish caught, which has a significant impact on any resource management planning or effort.

Trawling In the Estuaries Continues To Go Unchecked

North Carolina remains the only state in the Southeast to allow that and has not greatly limited or banned it altogether. This continuing issue has been a hot topic since the start of the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries in 1997.  Even with the significant decline in the state’s fishing, the state agency has refused to acknowledge the negative impact created by the large by-catch of the local and out-of-state trawlers and develop a plan to remedy it.

The Myth That Recreation Fishing Growth Is the Cause

A small number of groups have touted that the significant growth in recreational fishing in recent years is the bigger issue with the state’s fish stocks decline. The facts according to the NCDMFC latest statistics is that recreational fishing license purchases have declined over the past years. Even though the coastal North Carolina population has experienced a boom, there are fewer recreational fishermen on the water. At the same time, fishing regulations have tightened for the recreational angler. Nearly 38% of the recreational licenses are 1o day only. So while the state’s recreational fishing activity declines and fish stocks decline, the NCDMF continues to fail to take action on the factors that drive these issues.

Summary

What we have learned thus far in 2021 is North Carolina’s keeper of the fishing resource continues to “slow play” both the commercial and recreational fisherman. The statistics are staggering, and yet the laws and regulations needed to resolve the decline are avoided at all costs, and that is costing our North Carolina’s fishing resources. While other states have developed resource management plans that have proven effective, North Carolina State officials, including the Governor, go deaf. They further complicate the issues with increasing bureaucracy with complexity to distract from the real problems at hand.

  • More than half of the commercial fishing licenses are in the hands of people that use them to circumvent the regulations, which is an act that has a severe impact not only on the recreational fisherman but also on those commercial fishermen that work hard to make an honest living.
  • The 2021 recreation Flounder season is an insult in thinking this 2 week season would have an impact at all, while the commercial license issues and estuary trawling go ignored for yet another year.
  • The trawling issue has been talked about for over 15 years with no significant change. It’s a matter of “we’ll let the next administration clean it up”. The trawlers that are in the North Carolina estuaries are fishing for today and ignoring tomorrow when there will be no more fish to catch and the commercial jobs will go away forever. Many of the state’s seafood wholesalers now buy their fish from other states and countries. Some even mislabel their products to cover up their lack of support to the North Carolina commercial fisherman.
  • The CCA-NC court case is solid. Some anglers are not fans of the CCA-NC, but you may want to take a second look. They’re fighting the good fight and today they’re fighting hard for the recreational fisherman of the state of North Carolina. So far no organization has gotten as far as they have with bringing about change. It’s a good time to stand behind them since they have the state’s recreational fisherman’s fishing future as their priority.

What can You Do?

  • Contact the NCDMF Commissioners
    • Write a letter, send an email, call them, visit them
    • Be firm, but not combative
    • Be concise with your concerns and your expectations
    • Ask them where they stand
    • Follow up
    • Ask a fellow angler to get involved

 

 

 

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