Commercial fisherman

Commercial fisherman Randy King, bottom, speaks to Marine Fisheries commissioners, from left, Brad Koury, Chuck Laughridge and Rob Bizzell Thursday during a special meeting at the Beaufort Hotel concerning flounder fishery closures. (Dylan Ray photo)

Reporter's note: This article was corrected June 11 at 11:13 a.m. to correct a typo.

BEAUFORT — State fisheries managers plan to reduce the harvest of southern flounder – commercial and recreational – by 62-72% to address problems with the spawning stock.

The N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission met for a special meeting Thursday at the Beaufort Hotel on Lennoxville Road in Beaufort.

The commission met to select preferred management options for Southern Flounder Fishery Management Plan Amendment 2, which is being created to rebuild the southern flounder spawning stock and address the status of the stock. Public comments, both at Thursday’s meeting and prior, were mixed, with some opposed to the proposed amendment, some in support and one or two speakers who seemed neutral.

Despite this, the commission approved 5-4 selecting as its preferred management options the options recommended by N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries and N.C. Department of Environmental Quality staff.

The amendment now goes to the DEQ secretary for review and comment. The amendment will come back to the MFC for during its regular meeting Wednesday- Friday, Aug. 21-23 in Raleigh. The commission may take action on final approval for the amendment at that time.

The amendment is proposed to meet statutory requirements to achieve a sustainable harvest in the southern flounder fishery, to end overfishing (when fish are being harvested beyond a sustainable threshold) by 2021 and rebuilt the spawning stock by 2028. To achieve this, DMF southern flounder species lead Michael Loeffler said the DMF and DEQ jointly recommend the following management measures:

•    Establish seasonal closures this year by area for the commercial and recreational flounder fisheries to reduce the harvest by 62%.

•    Establish seasonal closures by areas in 2020 for the commercial and recreational flounder fisheries to reduce the harvest by 72%.

•    Reduce commercial anchored large-mesh gill net soak times to single, overnight soaks where nets may be set no sooner than one hour before sunset and must be retrieved no later than one hour after sunrise the next morning in the Neuse, Tar/Pamlico rivers and the Albemarle Sound areas previously exempted.

•    Recues the maximum yardage allowed in the commercial anchored large-mesh gill net fishery by 25% for each management unit, unless more restrictive yardage is specified through adaptive management through sea turtle or sturgeon incidental take permits.

•    Prohibit the use of any method of retrieving live flounder from pound nets that cause injury to released fish, including picks, gigs and spears.

•    Incorporate management measures from Southern Flounder FMP Amendment 1 its Supplement A into Amendment 2.

•    Authorize continued development of a Southern Flounder FMP Amendment 3 and more robust management strategies.

Not all the commissioners support the amendment and one of the main reasons seems to be the potential effects on commercial fishermen. MFC member Mike Blanton, who sits in one of the commercial fisherman seats, said the preferred management options, if adopted with the final approval of the amendment, would affect smaller commercial fishing operations the most.

“I don’t see how the commercial guys are going to get out of this,” he said. “I think there’s a lot more reasonable solutions. These fish need a break…but this stock needs something besides this slow trickle of death to the commercial fishery.”

The need to coordinate with other state’s fishery managers was the other main concern expressed by MFC members. MFC member Doug Cross, who sits in a commercial industry seat, said his biggest concern was how other states manage their flounder fisheries, which mingle with North Carolina’s.

“If we see no improvements (to the stock size) with this (amendment), the finger points to the others states, which we have no control over,” Mr. Cross said.

During Thursday’s meeting, about 15 people spoke during public comment. Most who spoke on the proposed flounder amendment were opposed to it.

Commercial fisherman Randy King said he hasn’t seen any decreases in his catch in recent years.

“I had the biggest catch last year that I’ve had since 1996,” Mr. King said. “I don’t know if it’s just my area, but it’s my living.”

Seafood dealer George Leone said he thinks the proposed amendment is “inappropriate.”

“To reduce a person’s income derived from the flounder fishery by 62% this year and then 72% for the following years until the stock has been deemed ‘rebuilt’ is abhorrent,” Mr. Leone said. “To put this into play just before the season starts is unconscionable.”

Carteret County Commissioner and commercial fisherman Johnathan Robinson said on behalf of the county commissioners they’re all concerned about the potential economic effects of the proposed harvest reduction.

“Commercial fishing has become a shadow of what it once was,” Mr. Robinson said. “The threshold proposed is unrealistic.”

N.C. Fisheries Association Executive Director Glenn Skinner said he’s been talking with commercial fishermen, who’ve told him they knew the reductions proposed in Amendment 2 would be significant.

“Their concern is when it will happen this year,” he said. “We’d ask you to do it in December. We need (the flounder harvest) this year. A lot of people still have hurricane damage. We need to be able to reinvest in the industry. Reductions have been made before (to the flounder harvest). They may not have been enough.”

Coastal Conservation Association N.C. President Dr. Chris Elkins was one of the few who spoke in favor of the amendment. He said he knows it isn’t an easy decision for the commission.

“We know from division biologists only 3% of ocean flounder landings are southern flounder,” he said.

CCA N.C. member Clark Hutchinson said past MFC members have “failed to act” to restore the flounder stock.

“You need to act on this,” Mr. Hutchinson said. “That’s all I ask you to do. Follow the management, follow the law.”

Inshore fishing charter Capt. Ron McPherson seemed neither to entirely oppose or support Amendment 2.

“The 62-72% reduction seems to be awful,” he said, “but it seems to be what some people think is acceptable. If you can back it off to 52%, please do that…the implementation, please put it off. Granted, (the fishing) isn’t as good as it was 10 years ago, but it’s not bad. Let’s try to make this as painless as possible.”

Contact Mike Shutak at 252-726-7081 ext. 206, email mike@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter at @mikesccnt.

(15) comments

Osprey

Every industry in this country has evolved over time. Some are able to adapt and survive others are not. It's time for the fishing industry to look beyond next week's paycheck. Loggers realized they were depleting the forest so they started planting and farming trees. Farmers realized they needed to take care of their soil so they rotate crops, fertilize and took measures to protect their future. Tobacco farmers are now planting alternative crops. Many entrepreneurs have been forced out of the business due to changing times. How many shoe repair shops, butcher shops, milkmen, ice men, blacksmith and so on are left ? Fish farming, shellfish farming are a great start. The commercial and recreational fisherman DO NOT OWN THE WATER. Both commercial and recreational have proven they are unable to manage the resources without regulation. They have not paid attention to history. The approach of depleting one species after another will last only as long as populations dwindle. Oysters, scallops, shad, clams, flounder, trout, and so many more species have suffered due to overfishing and excessive bycatch. I understand and sympathize with commercial fisherman but it is time to realize heritage does not trump learning from history. Personally I was self employed many years in a retail industry that was regulated and changing continuously. It was necessary to adapt, evolve and modernize to keep up with the time. Go ahead and attack, criticize, and whine about this commentary and regulations. It is time to see the bigger picture and either change methods and equipment to protect your own future or sit back, complain and fight a losing battle.

fedup1388

Sir you claim its the fishermen. This and the fishermen that. in fact its the water quality, bottom line. you build, and you build. scallops are gone clams are gone, fish are gone. I have lived here my entire life. I have seen the sounds grass beds disapear. not from claming or scalloping cause we havent been doing that in 20 years. But as you drive down the water the banks are all bulkheaded up. Their are homes built in the marsh itself. Sewage, raw or otherwise, rain runoff, turff grass control everywere. I give you the reason for the decline of our resource. Its just BIG MONEY DONT WANT TO HEAR THAT.

CARTERETISCORRUPT

Neither does the government own the ocean. It has not authority to tell anyone what they can and cannot fish, or how much. This governmental intrusion mirrors how intrusive we have let the government become.

CARTERETISCORRUPT

The only losing battle, is that that comes from being too cowardly to fight governmental over-reach.

David Collins

Sounds like the fish cops are going to be having a busy time of it. So many folks chipping away at the stock as it is. Most of the flounder I see for sale locally have been harvested with gigs so that will have to stop as well. The inshore charter folks will have a time explaining to their paying customers why flounder must be tossed back. It is called chunk fishing and for good reason. Same old story, too many people too little resource.

msmith2087

Waste and Pollutions of the Sounds, Oceans, Rivers running in the sounds and oceans are major problems. NC State Governments have allowed Houses and Buildings built on the shore lines to close to the waters and Pollutions Waste running in Sounds and Oceans. Worst Fish Kills was during the Red Tide which Commercial Fishermen had done nothing to cause! Business in Aurora had large ponds of waste from drilling deep in the ground that over flowed into the Sounds and was found in the Neuse River by the River Keepers. Which the DMF did nothing about to determine the cause. Property on the Sounds and Oceans need large areas to the waters for run-off which has NOT been done by the NC State Government. How many Fish have been killed by the Pollution in the Cape Fear River running into the Sounds near Wilmington? Wilson was dumping its Sewage into the Neuse River for years finally it stopped!

Osprey

Water quality is a huge factor in fish stock. Runoff from as far as Raleigh has direct impacts on our Sounds. Whether it's the fisherman, farm runoff, or over building the fact is we need to take measures to help preserve the fish populations and stop "contributing to depleting stocks". Harvest reduction and lower bycatch are necessary steps along with improving water quality. Regarding grass beds, once again I refer to history. The Chesapeake Bay had tremendous loss of seagrass back in the 50' 60's & early 70's. It takes years for the beds to recover and to this date many areas of the Chesapeake have not .

John

Water quality is not the biggest issues! It does need to improve. But The Chesapeake bay in VA, is feed by what was once called the chemical capital of the world back in the 80's but now has way better fishing than our waters! But they do not allow some of the destructive fishing methods that we allow. And be very careful on say the water is so bad that the fish are dying, Then you shoot yourself in the foot. If the water is so bad fish are dying how can the fish be safe to eat? SEE a double edge sward, you cant say the water is the problem or they will look at is the fish safe to eat and SELL! The biggest problem is the D.M.F. Has turned its head and allowed shrimping in our sounds and hatcheries for so long that the fisheries are not able to sustain a healthy stock level.

David Collins

In my opinion, John is correct. N C's allowance of destructive fishing methods probably hurts the recruitment rate of all fin fish along with shrimp and other marketable critters. Bottom trawling and gill nets in our inshore waters does kill huge numbers of juvenile and non-target fish species. Things are a bit better now but the folks regulating this need to get serious or get out. Am quite sure that the recreational/commercial { wink, wink, nod, nod fisherman ] are still out there, just being more stealthy about it. Water quality is still under assault due to uncontrollable irresponsible development that is so often ignored, for a multitude of reasons, mostly political and self serving interest, by those tasked to do the regulating. Political appointees at the top levels are seldom the brightest and best at what they do and routinely bow to developer pressure. Our legislators are totally clueless when it comes to environmental protection and get a serious case of amnesia when deciding what is best for the health of our state. One has to just to look at Raleigh and it becomes quite obvious. Can't see it from their house so all must be OK. The last relatively under developed property on the East coast extends from about Myrtle Beach to the Virginia line and we are sitting about dead center of it all. Sort of a Custer's Last Stand type of situation. Isn't it ? So, with all that in mind things will still continue to degrade and the race to catch the last fish will continue. The saying, if I don't catch it, someone else will, still lives on.

(Edited by staff.)

CARTERETISCORRUPT

We wanted the tourists, the carpetbaggers, and the second and third homers. We got what we asked for. Foul water.

McCool

I was reading the input with interest, until I saw Clark Hutchinson,s name! What has he done to qualify as an expert on fisheries management? If this commission considers his input as guidance then the commercial interests are lost. This man's background does not include any type of fishing resource management.

SEABASS

The Flounder stock has been in depleted or over fished from back in the late 90's. I want to say in 1997 they where listed in concerned and being over fished. And still now today 20+ years later and still no better. No one want drastic restrictions but the minor ones has not worked. And i am sorry but the netting destroying our fisheries. And history is showing us that, some just keep turning a blind eye to it.

Sheepshead

NC does not have a D.M.F. that even remotely cares for our fisheries. It has a obligation to protect and help the Commercial fishermen. That is there number one and only goal. If this was not so most of the destructive fishing gear would not be allowed in our sounds and hatcheries to destroy the juvenile stock. Look at what was done over ten years ago when the flounder was put on the over fished status. The rec fishermen had there landing limit dropped and the size limit was raised. But the commercial fishermen s limit was not adjusted at all. THEY HAVE NEVER HAD A LIMIT SO! But it has done nothing because the rec fishermen are not taking the most of that stock. But soon it will be dropped to a one fish for rec fishermen and the commercial will still have a free rang with little to NO limits. Great job D.M.F. You have done nothing but allow our fisheries to be destroyed as you set idle by not watching or caring.

John Bonney

Pretty soon, the taking of the egg laden white shrimp will cause the white shrimp to disappear. This will result in reduced bycatch and more flounder. The flounder stock will show a little uptick. Maybe it will happen, or has happened with browns or greentails. Anyway; the combination of bycatch, pollution, gill nets and weather insure that the professionals will never get this right. I'm going to thumb my nose at any effort to get me to throw back 15 inch flounder. Catch me if you can.

beachman

It is a shame our finishers has gotten so bad. The DMF has done nothing to help but blame one group the rec fishermen! And put the regulations mostly on there backs. In some cases they have cut the limit down to one fish for rec fishermen. While the commercial fishermen has little to no limits. And they have no limits on FLOUNDER NOW. They have never had a landing limit. Witch is what needs to happen now. But if they do not stop netting and shrimping on our sounds our fisheries are doomed.

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