With possible shrimp trawl closures before state fisheries commission, industry workers, advocates express concern over ‘detrimental’ proposal

The shrimp trawler Delsie Elizabethparticipates in the Blessing of The Fleet during the N.C. Seafood Festival Oct. 3 in Morehead City. (Cheryl Burke photo)

EMERALD ISLE — State fisheries managers are scheduled to choose preferred management options for shrimp at their next meeting, and the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries recommends closing more coastal waters to shrimp trawls.

The division issued an announcement Monday the N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission, the rulemaking body which creates regulations for commercial and recreational fisheries on the coast and in state waters, will meet Wednesday, Nov. 17 through Friday, Nov. 19 at the Islander Hotel & Resort in Emerald Isle. The commission will discuss Shrimp Fishery Management Plan Amendment 2 the afternoon of Nov. 17, after which the commission may vote on its preferred management options and to send the draft plan to the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality.

The division’s recommendations include a suite of area closures to shrimp trawling in state coastal waters, almost 69,000 acres, according to the division’s documentation. It claims this region produced 476,296 pounds of shrimp on average per year from 2010-19, valued at $696,000 per year with 119 shrimpers participating. 

According to the documentation provided on draft Shrimp Fishery Management Plan Amendment 2 …

According to one local shrimper, these closures could put a lot of local fishermen out of business.

Part-time shrimper Zack Davis of Marshallberg said in a Friday interview with the News-Times the proposed closures are “detrimental to the industry as a whole.”

“It puts the little man out of business, the people with boats in the 40- to 50-foot range,” Mr. Davis said.

He went on to say that with so many close-shore areas closed, shrimpers would have to go further out into open waters, where weather and waves can make conditions life-threatening for smaller vessels.

 “I have a 65-foot boat,” Mr. Davis said. “I can shrimp in most weather conditions, but I’ve shrimped in many boats that can’t go out in hazardous weather. When you stick those boats in the middle of Pamlico Sound, there’s a chance for loss of life.”

In addition to shrimping, Mr. Davis also teaches marine trades and welding at East Carteret High School. He said shrimping can provide good income, “but there’s no guarantee the industry will be there next year” due to proposals for closures and similar restrictions.

“I’m 37 and I’ve been shrimping for 25 years,” Mr. Davis said. “I paid for college with shrimping. I built a trawler about 5 years ago. I’m just a small-time fisherman, you have people who have a lot more invested.”

In Morehead City, Blue Ocean Market general manager Jeremiah Tryon said in a Friday interview he’d not previous heard of the proposal. Mr. Tryon went on to say his information on proposed regulations and management measures comes from several different sources, including contacts with the DMF.

“It’s a confusing system,” he said.

On the subject of the recommended closures, Mr. Tryon said he’d need to look at the specific areas under consideration and he’d support the closures if they were “good for the fishery” but didn’t support “bureaucracy for the sake of bureaucracy.”

“Shrimp contributes to our business greatly,” Mr. Tryon said. “It’s a huge portion of our business.”

When it came to learning of the division’s recommendations, Mr. Davis said he first heard about them from Monday’s announcement. However, this may be because Mr. Davis follows DMF activity closely. He’s applied for membership on the Shrimp FMP Advisory Committee and attends the committee’s meetings.   

One former MFC member, marine biologist and self-professed recreational fisherman Jess Hawkins, isn’t pleased with either the DMF’s recommendations or the amount of time the public has to respond to them.

Owner of Crystal Coast Ecotours, Mr. Hawkins said Thursdayhe finds how these recommendations were made and announced “deeply disturbing.”

“The division is the scientific arm of the commission,” Mr. Hawkins said. “The way they did this doesn’t reflect what our state leaders expect to come out of the (N.C.) Fisheries Reform Act. They didn’t inform the public about these options until Monday (Nov. 1); that only gives the public two weeks to comment.”

The stated purpose of the amendment is to reduce finfish bycatch in the shrimp fishery. Mr. Hawkins said this issue, like many, merits debate, but in this case he thinks the DMF has “disregarded all the (industry) collaboration to reduce bycatch.”

“North Carolina was the first state to include excluder devices in shrimp trawls,” he said. “The measures they’re pursuing now, I don’t know how they’d quantify success.”

He also voiced concern about commercial fishermen being driven to go further out to sea to fish and shrimp, resulting in fishermen in small craft having to go out into dangerous waters.

“Seventy percent of our shrimp trawl fleet is composed of boats less than 50 feet,” he said.

Mr. Hawkins also questioned the areas being considered for closures. He said the proposed closure areas aren’t where finfish tend to spawn, but are connecting areas between nurseries.

“From a scientific standpoint, (the DMF) say there needs to be connectivity between these habitats,” Mr. Hawkins said. “That’s a strong theory in terrestrial habitat, but in marine habitat, it’s unknown.”

A local seafood advocacy organization is also opposed to the proposed management measures. N.C. Carteret Catch president Barbara Garrity-Blake said she and her organization, which is dedicated to educating consumers on the benefits of eating locally harvested seafood, think the proposed measures are “going in the wrong direction.”

“These measures are disadvantaging the fishermen with the lowest carbon footprint, with the shortest distance to go (to harvest shrimp),” Ms. Garrity-Blake said. “We think the managers need to consider these factors. They’re operating on an outdated concept of conservation.”

It’s not only the environmental effects these closures could have that concern Ms. Garrity-Blake, but also the affect on the local shrimpers themselves.

“We’re concerned these measures will wipe our our small boat fisheries,” she said. “These fishermen aren’t equipped to go out on open waters. I live in Gloucester; when I look across the street, I see shrimpers and I can recognize their boats.”

There will be public comment periods during the MFC meeting at 6 p.m., Nov. 17 and at 9:30 a.m. Nov. 19. Anyone who wishes to sign up to speak during the public comment periods or submit written comments online, may do so at the website deq.nc.gov/about/divisions/marine-fisheries/marine-fisheries-commission/marine-fisheries-commission-meetings#quarterly-business-meeting---november-17-19.

The commission will review recommendations from its advisory committees and the DMF, which enforces fishing regulations and performs field work, studies and data gathering for the MFC.

In response to the concerns voiced, DMF public information officer Patricia Smith said the DMF first released the draft management plan in June.

“During the 30-day public comment period, the five MFC Advisory Committees also met to review the draft and provide input and recommendations,” she said. “We encourage any public interested in this issue to review the draft Amendment 2…along with its companion decision document, which includes the rationale for the divisions’ recommendations.”

 

Contact Mike Shutak at 252-723-7353, email mike@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter at @mikesccnt.

(19) comments

noitall

“From a scientific standpoint, (the DMF) say there needs to be connectivity between these habitats,” Mr. Hawkins said. “That’s a strong theory in terrestrial habitat, but in marine habitat, it’s unknown.” This has to be one of the worst excuses for any management of anything. The unknown is why these bureaucrats have this authority. Baseless. theory and shrimpers are gone. Worthless public comment periods that are no more than a free lunch of paper thin thin roast beef and peas plus a roll. These dudes are Not elected,and accountable to no one. What could possibly go wrong??

Crabpot

This should put the proverbial nail in the coffin for many small boat, in shore shrimpers in Carteret County. Perhaps locals should start charging $50.00 / pound heads on. To wax and wane about the coast and all it has to offer including fresh seafood while at the same time consuming seafood that is almost 90% imported nationwide seems hypocritical. Either you support local seafood and local fishermen and women or you don't.

John

Sorry but the Trawlers are killing all the other Commercial fishermen. They are destroying the juvenile fin fish stock by the millions every few month's. I have been a Commercial Fishermen for over 30 years and will tell you yes the Trawlers are the biggest problem. With failing stocks. It is hard to have a vibrant stock when you kill all the juvenile fish.

Just Saying

Please share with us your commercial license number and date of issuance. It’s hard to believe you spent 30 years in the industry and come out with the belief that trawlers are the “Biggest Problem”. Especially since over the past 30 years of your service in the industry (if that’s true) you would have witnessed what once was a busseling industry that had over 10-20,000 registered commercial licenses and vessels among our coastal waters providing local seafood to their communities in over 100’s + fish markets that dotted the NC coastline in most every coastal town. You would have also witnessed the the state DMF guidelines constantly imposed over that 30 years on the each of these family owned commercial boats and workers. Their fees raised to even have a license, the increased cost these boat owners paid out of pocket for new gear to prevent excessive by-catch to adhere to the ever increased DMF guidelines, the time and effort spent by commercial vessels to host special observers on their boats to recorded and collect data on their catch. Many of these observers from Duke, ECU & even UNC marine biology departments. Many of these studies all came back inconclusive and even sided with the commercial fisheries that they weren’t harming the fish stocks, and that other environmental and increased coastal developments could be a factor. You would have also seen in your 30 years in the commercial industry the severe decline in commercial fishing licenses and vessels that have been able to survive the amount of cost and guidelines imposed. So much so that there are less than 2,500 registered active commercial license in 2020. Out of those 2,500 vessels, approx 1/4 of those actually work the coastal waters full time. All the others retain their license to occasionally fish to provide extra food and income for their families. They can’t afford the cost involved any longer to keep at it fulltime. So, please tell me how over the past 30 years with an 85% decline in actual operating vessels that commercial fisherman are really the “Biggest Problem” and are the sole reason for the supposed decline in fish stocks? Also, please explain to me if there has truly been such a decline that the agency’s such as the CCA and recreational licenses have increased at least 300% in the last 30 years to over 800,000 members now. And such recreational fisherman have touted on 100’s of fishing social media groups their numerous catch’s. Based on these social media boards it looks like Flounder in abundance, speckled trout in abundance, red drum inabundance. Every recreational fishing tournament along the NC coast say their breaking records for # of registered boaters to fish for a weekend of fun, also with an abundance of catches to take home a trophy. Let’s talk about the 800,000 recreational licenses the DMF doesn’t check to be sure they have their limit. They don’t have the man power to put observers on each of their boats, or even at the countless public boat ramps to keep track of each boats “true” catch and release limits. How long did each angler keep their undersized fish out of the water? Did they just trow it back in the water dead? Isn’t that by definition “By-catch”. - Just Saying! ;)

drewski

You cannot make an honest comparison between anglers who may have left a single fish out of the water too long, and a trawler catching thousands of pounds of bycatch over the course of a day.

Over fishing and inshore trawling clearly have contributed to the decline of fish stocks. Times change, industries adapt or fail. It is just a fact of life.

Crabpot

You're getting too deep in the woods. Most of the people complaining here probably lost you after your second sentence or more importantly, have no idea in regard to the information you are providing. These "come to Jesus", pseudo environmentalists would still howl at the moon if a turtle nest was on their property.

Ole seadog

There used to be plenty of fish and the trawlers lived in balanced coexistence with them before closures. It's not overfishing or killing of the bycatch(most of which is returned live to the water) ITs about the underproducing habitat that is silted over and underproduces by closing bottom.

Ole seadog

So where's the evidence that closing bottom leads to an increase in stocks? Let me save you a look there isn't any. On the contrary, the closing of bottom in NC has led to less productive fishing and not more.

beachman

The highest rates of incidental catch of non-target species are associated with shrimp trawling. With a discard rates (bycatch to catch ratios) as high as 20:1 with a world average of 5.7:1. Shrimp trawl fisheries catch two percent of the world total catch of all fish by weight, but produce more than one-third of the world total bycatch. US shrimp trawlers produce bycatch ratios between 3:1 (3 bycatch:1 shrimp) and 15:1 (15 bycatch:1 shrimp) They should not be allowed to operate in any inland waters. It is simple don't Trawl in the Hatcheries.

Just Saying

Glad you can state true World ratio of by-catch. Many other countries in the world have no guidelines or regulations. Why don’t you quote the NC ratios? Also, why don’t you comment on how true designates hatcheries are already off limits to commercial trawling, but not to recreational fisherman, who are still allowed for cast netting or trolling these areas with rod and reels? I mean if you want to put out statistics let’s put out the real ones, that are local to the areas in question. Not the worldly ratios that aren’t regulated like our NC waters. -Just Saying

Ole seadog

The hatcheries almost entirely are the Atlantic Ocean for almost all of the species of finfish and shrimp in NC. The Atlantic Ocean is not what's being proposed to be closed. Its simple if you don't understand the biology and lifecycle of the fisheries please don't post misinformation.

Carteret Native 01

I know a shrimper who lets his bycatch "quiet down" before he culls, because it's a hassle to sort through the roiling pile of bycatch. By the time the bycatch is sorted, it's dead or near death. Shrimpers are bound to know and understand the damage they're doing. The public paying a premium for Carteret Catch and local seafood have no idea that shrimpers are responsible for the death of tons of bycatch. Responsible tuna fishermen work to reduce dolphin deaths. Irresponsible shrimpers just don't care.

SEABASS

I have worked with several shrimpers and i cam tell you they do have a lot of waste. So i know they are a big contributor to hurting stocks as said in other post.

Sheepshead

For year Trawls has destroyed our fish stocks and nothing has ever been done to stop it. I just hope this time they do. North Carolina with the great sounds and waters we have should be the best place to fish on the Eastern seaboard. But we have allowed the Trawls to destroy our stocks by allowing the killing of the Juvenile fish as other has pointed out.

David Collins

Agree , time to close the curtain on inshore shrimp trawling . The crab bait sales will have to come from another source . Yeah it happens more than one thinks .

John

First let me help you on a few things. One i never said That commercial Fishermen where the problem, ... I stated that the Larger Trawls industry's like Davis stated, Is the problem!! Go back and read! ..... i .....And yes the rec fishermen are catching more and more fish only because there is more rec fishermen. If you double the seven thousand Commercial Fishermen in North Carolina And let them fish like the rec fishermen do, Heck we would triple what we catch now! It's all about numbers. But for me and you sit here and say that the Trawl's industry is not destroying the juvenile fish by the millions every year is to sit hear and tell a bald face lie! And yes i have The Retired Standard Commercial Fishing License. So yeah i am old now and seen a lot of thing but i also know if you don't open your mouth and say what you see is hurting the things you love then it will keep hurting it. So it is kinda like abuse if you keep your mouth shut it wont stop!!!

(Edited by staff.)

riebese

I agree I live by the Straights and am hard pressed to find menhaden after trawls have come through they have been working this area from Marshaberg to the HI N channel very hard for weeks & their is no bait to be found.

PINEYPOINTER

riebese'didn't know ya caught shad in a shrimp trawl.I guess ya been on the straits all ya life so you surely know all about shrimping and such.

(Edited by staff.)

PINEYPOINTER

YA GOT TO BLAME SOMEONE. There are 20% or less of the shrimp boats there were in say 1975.There were plenty of fish then for rec.and com.And for the eastern part of the county most all of us were born and raised here going back 5 or 6 generations or more.Now we have an invasive species known as the 'DINGBATTER'that thinks they know all about everything especially concerning fish.Before long they will outnumber us locals.Whats NX.

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