We urge attendance in a 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday public hearing in the New Bern River Convention Center that the N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission will hold to discuss southern flounder, the state’s most requested finfish.
Representing the state’s commercial fishermen who serve the public, the N.C. Fisheries Association, is asking the Fisheries Commission to manage southern flounder in a fair and equitable manner, and it’s seeking fishermen’s participation in the hearing.
Although scientists can’t determine the status of the southern flounder and the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries isn’t recommending any action, the Marine Fisheries Commission is considering restrictions that could reduce southern flounder harvest 60% by Sept. 1.
On May 21, Tom Wadsworth, the Division of Marine Fisheries’ southern flounder biologist, told the commission that the 2014 stock assessment “was not approved for determining stock status, which means that we’re not able to tell if the stock is overfished or overfishing is occurring.”
Why the rush to judgment?
A 60% reduction for North Carolina would mean drastic cuts for recreational and commercial fishermen.
According to the draft supplement, “An Oct. 1-Dec. 31 (commercial and recreational season) closure with a 16-inch minimum size limit and a one-fish recreational bag limit resulted in an estimated 60% reduction.”
The commission has also approved six proposals for public comment that include a gill net ban, total season closures, an increased size limit that would cripple the northern commercial fishery, gear modifications that would be hard to comply with this late in the year and severe restrictions on the commercial gig fishery.
Economic impacts to local economies would also be significant.
If more restrictions are set in place, seafood markets would struggle to meet demand, meaning sharp price increases for consumers and less dollars for the families and communities of fishermen.
In 2013, when fishermen landed roughly 2.2 million pounds, the Rural Center said flounder prices were $3.99-$17.99 per pound in 48 markets it surveyed. Had the fishery been cut 60% that year with the price of flounder averaging just $7 per pound, North Carolina retailers would have lost almost $9.2 million. That doesn’t include the value added by tourism dollars from anglers and visitors who come to eat fresh caught, local seafood.
With no confirmed emergency, why is the commission considering a fast-track emergency process that would allow it to act with little stakeholder input free of legislative review? Is it politics?
Without a valid stock assessment or recommendation from the Division of Marine Fisheries, the argument that this is an urgent issue “impossible to address through the FMP amendment process” (as outlined in the commission’s guidelines) is, at best, fragile.
This push for emergency action, which is not in North Carolina’s best interest, is an end run around the established management process that could effectively eliminate commercial gear and tremendously limit the availability of southern flounder for consumers.
With the power to destroy fishermen’s livelihoods and rob the public of access to fresh local flounder without requisite data, without oversight and without delay, fishermen, whose livelihoods and families’ well being are on the line, must be heard. Please go to Wednesday’s public hearing.