MOREHEAD CITY — Draft shrimp management measures are going out for public input, including an option to prohibit shrimp trawling in Pamlico Sound.
The N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission met virtually for its regular meeting Thursday via Zoom. During the meeting, the commission voted 5-3, with Chairperson Rob Bizzell abstaining, to send draft Shrimp Fishery Management Plan Amendment 2 out for public comment and MFC advisory committee review. The amendment’s stated purpose is “to further reduce bycatch in the shrimp trawl fishery and protect critical habitat.”
The draft amendment will now be available for examination and comment. It will also go to the commission’s advisory committees for review.
According to the draft amendment, Pamlico Sound is “an important habitat for many fish species and is extensively used as juvenile habitat for estuarine-dependent species like Atlantic croaker, spot, southern flounder, summer flounder and weakfish.”
“While trawl closures are designated in most bays and tributaries of the sound and along the eastern shore, most of the sound is open to trawling,” the draft says.
The draft goes on to say due to the extent some species use Pamlico Sound, additional isolated closures aren’t likely to substantially reduce bycatch. While complete closure would reduce bycatch and conflict between trawlers and other sectors, as well as protect habitat and juvenile fish, it would eliminate access to the shrimp resource in very productive areas, increase trawl effort in the remaining open areas and create economic hardship.
MFC scientist member Pete Kornegay, recreational fishing member Robert McNeill and recreational industry member Tom Roller voted against sending the amendment out for public input. Mr. Kornegay said he read the draft amendment and found it “to be quite deficient” in terms of data.
“In no way do I think it’s ready to go out for public review,” he said. Among his concerns were that the draft focuses on the “uncertainty of the results of potential management actions.”
“Uncertainty doesn’t have to result in inaction,” he said. “In cases where there’s uncertainty or where information is unknown or where there are no certain data with which to guide fishery management decisions, a precautionary approach must be employed.”
Mr. Kornegay said DMF data indicates all of Pamlico Sound functions as a nursery area, yet in the draft “there’s little discussion and no analysis on the alternative of classifying the entire Pamlico Sound as a nursery area.”
Mr. Roller said he also had a problem with the draft “as written.”
“We need more options and creative options…for protecting species in the Pamlico Sound in particular,” he said.
N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries Director Kathy Rawls, for whom Thursday’s MFC meeting was her first in the position, defended the draft amendment. Ms. Rawls said division staff who wrote it don’t think the data used in it is inaccurate.
“This plan addresses some of the key areas of concern (about shrimp trawl bycatch),” she said. “It has many management options…We wouldn’t make recommendations until we get public input. If the commission says we left something out, that’s part of the process.”
Several speakers during the meeting’s public comment period spoke on the proposed amendment, supporting the closure of Pamlico Sound to shrimp trawling. Coastal Conservation Association North Carolina branch fisheries Chairperson Stuart Creighton said the proposal “is clearly the best option.”
“Pamlico Sound is clearly one of the most important nursery areas on the coast,” he said.
Rick Sasser also spoke in favor of the closure, saying “the data’s there to close the Pamlico Sound to shrimp trawling.”
“No other state with shrimp trawling, from Virginia to Texas, allows what North Carolina does,” he said.
CCANC Branch Director David Snead also encouraged the commission to consider trawl closures, which he said “could protect sensitive habitat.”
“We’ve been trawling for decades over nursery areas for spot and croaker and weakfish,” Mr. Snead said. “We’ve already been told by (DMF) staff status quo doesn’t meet (bycatch reduction) requirements.”
The DMF also received 28 written comments, several of them supporting prohibiting in-shore shrimp trawling. One participant, MFC shrimp FMP advisory committee member Bruce MacLachlan, said in his May 18 written comment he thinks the draft amendment “doesn’t adequately address its overall goal or objectives.”
“I believe that DMF staff worked diligently to develop a shrimp FMP that would be acceptable to all user groups and interest,” he said, “but the 2021 Shrimp FMP Amendment 2 fails to meet its stated objectives.”
Contact Mike Shutak at 252-723-7353, email firstname.lastname@example.org; or follow on Twitter at @mikesccnt.