MOREHEAD CITY — State marine fisheries managers support protecting coastal habitat and seek more public input on a proposed plan of action.
The N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission met online via Zoom Aug. 25-26 for its regular business meeting. During the meeting, the commission received a report on the latest draft of the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality’s Coastal Habitat Protection Plan. It has a long list of changes the department’s CHPP Steering Committee recommends to improve fish stocks, improve coastal habitat and increase coastal resiliency.
This new draft has been sent to the MFC, the N.C. Coastal Resources Commission and the N.C. Environmental Management Commission for review and potential action. At the Aug. 26 meeting, the MFC unanimously approved sending out the draft plan for public comment. An official with DMF said the public comment period will open at a later date.
N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries habitat section chief Anne Deaton said during the CHPP report there’s a strong focus on water quality in the amendments regarding protecting subaquatic vegetation.
“We have enough info to know we need to take action now (to protect subaquatic vegetation),” she said. “Water quality degradation is a major threat to SAV. We’re also concerned with climate change.”
Ms. Deaton said rising temperatures and increased rainfall resulting from climate change may cause changes in water temperature and salinity, which could affect SAV. She said the draft CHPP recommends focusing on water quality standards for SAV, which will benefit many other things, including wild oyster recovery and fish stock rebuilding.
The MFC seemed very interested in the CHPP and its goals. Commission recreational fishing industry representative Tom Roller said protecting coastal habitat is “integral to all the stocks we manage.”
“There are many challenges facing habitat in North Carolina,” MFC at-large representative Martin Posey said. “This is an area where many things need to be done.”
In other news at the Aug. 26 meeting, DMF southern flounder lead Mike Loeffler said Amendment 3 to the southern flounder fishery management plan is scheduled to come before the MFC at its meeting in November.
According to meeting material for the Aug. 26 meeting, Amendment 3 will “examine more robust management strategies, such as quotas, slot limits, size limit changes, gear changes and species-specific management for the recreational fishery.” The DMF reports that while commercial and recreational southern flounder seasons implemented in 2020 reduced landings, they didn’t fully meet reductions required by the FMP.
During the discussion of Amendment 3, MFC vice chairman and commercial industry representative Doug Cross said he wants to find out how much effect virtual recreational fishing tournaments affect the southern flounder stock. Mr. Roller seemed to agree, though he also wanted to see more information on unreported commercial landings.
DMF director Kathy Rawls said they’ve heard the issue of unreported commercial landings of southern flounder brought up recently.
“Currently we can’t say what the impact is,” Ms. Rawls said. “Even if it’s a small part, we’d want to know what that part is.”
MFC commercial fishing representative Mike Blandon said he’s also noticed the issue brought up at several MFC meetings. He also said he’s noticed a “tremendous decline” in commercial fishing effort and a lack of reporting on recreational fishing landings.
“I have no issue coming up with mechanisms to address these concerns,” Mr. Blandon said, “but I’m not convinced there’s this robust number of fish being taken out of the water (commercially) unreported.”
Contact Mike Shutak at 252-723-7353, email email@example.com; or follow on Twitter at @mikesccnt.