MOREHEAD CITY — State fisheries managers are proposing more changes to southern flounder regulations to reduce flounder removals by 72%.
The proposals include phasing out anchored, large mesh gill nets from the fishery. However, N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries staff want public and advisory committee input before they make any recommendations to the N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission.
This seemed to be the takeaway from the DMF’s online listening session Wednesday on the Southern Flounder Fishery Management Plan Amendment 3 draft. DMF lead southern flounder biologist Michael Loeffler and DMF biologist Anne Markwith gave an overview on the amendment and took questions afterward.
“The southern flounder stock is overfished,” Mr. Loeffler said while explaining the need for Amendment 3, “and was undergoing overfishing during the terminal year (of the last stock assessment).”
According to the DMF, an overfished stock is one that’s spawning stock has dropped below a threshold that allows a sustainable fishery. Overfishing is when fishing effort prevents a fishery from producing a sustainable harvest.
Mr. Loeffler said while current management efforts have achieved a 52% reduction in total removals – landings and dead discards combined – this is only the minimum needed to end the overfished status by 2030.
To continue reducing removals, the draft Amendment 3 contains a suite of additional proposed management options. These include:
· Phasing out anchored, large mesh gill nets from the southern flounder fishery.
· Implementing commercial trip limits for pound nets and gigs where appropriate.
· Reducing the recreational back limit from four fish per person, per day to one, while allowing an early season from March 1–April 15 each year and a fall season from Aug. 16–Sept. 30.
· Prohibiting southern flounder harvest under a recreational commercial gear license.
While the DMF has recommendations on whether or not to implement the various proposed measures, or how to implement them, the division wants to wait for advisory and public input on the proposed gill net removal.
Mr. Loeffler said while phasing out the gill nets may reduce landings, the effect on both the economy and the fishery are uncertain.
“What’s unknown is how will fishermen adapt, will they move to a new gear,” he said.
The DMF doesn’t recommend all the proposed management measures, however. Ms. Markwith said the division recommends not implementing a southern flounder slot limit, which would only allow harvesting fish that fall between a minimum and maximum size. She said this could result in more dead discards, as well as preclude other management measures that, combined with a slot limit, would limit data gathering.
“We want to make sure everything’s right before we implement a slot limit,” Ms. Markwith said.
The division is taking public comments on the draft until Friday, and comments will be accepted during three advisory committee meetings scheduled this week.
Links to join the advisory committee meetings are posted on the MFC advisory committees meetings webpage at deq.nc.gov/about/divisions/marine-fisheries/marine-fisheries-commission/mfc-advisory-committees/mfc-advisory-committee-meetings.
Public comment also may be submitted by an online survey available at the website forms.office.com/pages/responsepage.aspx?id=3IF2etC5mkSFw-zCbNftGaKqeU_o7LdHtr-KB4KuUsxUMjFaSkExOFowQTg4UEVFUjFHVUVXQUo2MC4u. Comments may also be submitted by regular mail to Draft Southern Flounder FMP Amendment 3 Comments, P.O. Box 769, Morehead City, NC 28557. Comments must be received by 5 p.m. Friday.
Contact Mike Shutak at 252-723-7353, email firstname.lastname@example.org; or follow on Twitter at @mikesccnt.