BEAUFORT — Carteret County will join fisheries groups in fighting the state Marine Fisheries Commission’s southern flounder supplement changes to reduce catch, which local fishermen say will kill the flounder industry here and cause a ripple effect in other local economic sectors.
“I fished for a living, I know what the implications would’ve meant for my family if you’d have taken half of my income from the fall,” Commissioner Jonathan Robinson told the county board. “It means somebody’s not going to have Christmas. It means somebody’s going to have to decide whether to be cold this winter or have something to eat.”
On his recommendation, county commissioners unanimously agreed to a resolution supporting a potential lawsuit from state and regional fishermen’s associations, primarily the N.C. Fisheries Association, against the MFC during their Monday meeting in the administration building.
Consideration of the complaint follows the November 2015 adoption of a supplement to southern flounder management regulations, a process which critics say circumvented standard amendment procedures after stopgap reassurances in the form of stock assessments failed to pass peer review.
“It didn’t pass the smell test. The science was flawed. It couldn’t pass independent peer review – the chief criteria for the development of any new regulations,” Mr. Robinson said.
The supplement increases the minimum flounder size to 15 inches, closes the fishery to large mesh gill nets and trommel nets from Oct. 1 to Dec. 31, closes recreational hook-and-line and flounder gig fishing from Oct. 16 to Dec. 31 and enforces a mesh size of 6 inches for anchored gill nets, among other changes.
“We’re trying to eliminate our commercial fisheries and hamper our recreational fisheries for the benefit of our southern neighbors,” attorney Steve Weeks, who has represented the N.C. Fisheries Association in other suits, told the county of the MFC’s action.
Mr. Weeks did not return a call seeking comment on what parties could be named in the lawsuit and when it might be filed.
A number of other states including Florida and South Carolina have less regulation on southern flounder, allowing fishermen to land more and smaller fish, officials said.
MFC Chairman Sammy Corbett told the News-Times Tuesday he had few comments on any potential litigation, and he didn’t condone the state panel’s action on the supplement in the first place.
“I didn’t vote for it and I don’t agree with it, it’s a mess,” he said of the 2015 flounder supplement. “It’s very poorly thought out.”
He did however, wonder why the association has delayed in taking action against the MFC until nearly a year later.
“If they had a problem, they should’ve (filed suit) a long time (ago). Everybody’s just now figuring out what the supplement means (for them,)” Mr. Corbett said.
Now approved, the supplement measures will close the flounder fishery next month.
“The closures begin on Oct. 16, that is the heart of flounder season. Most of the flounders are caught from October through Thanksgiving,” Mr. Weeks told county commissioners.
MFC officials said in November that in approving the supplement they aimed to protect the stock by decreasing harvest by 25 to 60 percent.
Advocacy groups are arguing the MFC canned their own procedures after stock assessments came back unfavorably.
“Certain individuals kind of directed this movement … I think they had some ulterior motives,” Mr. Weeks said.
The ramifications of such a drastic cut to flounder catch impact more than the seafood business, however, according to Mr. Robinson.
The additional hardship of the supplement will not only critically hamper area commercial flounder fishermen, he said, but dip into the wealth recreational fishermen bring to the area with their sport.
“Those that come down here to fish recreationally they’re not going to be able to catch a flounder. That’s vacant motel rooms, lost sales of gas and all other kind of economic implications,” he noted.
Two local fishermen spoke in favor of the county joining any future lawsuit on the southern flounder supplement during Monday’s public comment.
“I see it as being very detrimental … had true science justified these measures to reduce harvest, I wouldn’t be here asking for you support,” Adam Tyler, a commercial fisherman from Smyrna told commissioners.
Hyde County has already agreed to support the complaint against the regulatory agency, according to Mr. Weeks, and Dare County will consider similar action tonight.
“It’s the only hope we’ve got of rectifying the situation,” Mr. Robinson said.
Reporter Mike Shutak contributed to this report.
Contact Jackie Starkey at 252-726-7081, ext. 232; email email@example.com; or follow on Twitter @jackieccnt.