Beaufort, N.C.

Nov. 7, 2021

TO THE EDITOR:

I confess I think with my heart every time I see another nail in the coffin of commercial fishing appear. My shock at seeing a new proposal to end trawling in inland waters should not have caught me by surprise but I admit I am shocked and dismayed at the loss of the scientific approach to fisheries management and the substitution of lessor methods of popular belief as management as I refuse to believe that real scientists developed this new shrimp plan. In no way is this plan based on science, let me explain in detail.

Since growing up in a commercial fishing family as my hobby I have made it a point to study and observe the balance of nature and the positive as well as the negative effects of man. In MFC edits that closed bottom, they have managed to take waters that teemed with fish and shrimp with high concentrations of life (biomass) and transform them into low biomass containing stretches of water.

They accomplished this by closing large bodies of productive waters and allowing them to be filled with silt. The silt killed most of the submerged underwater Vegetation (SUV) in the bays and creeks they insisted were nursery areas. The loss of the SUV in these areas that were among the most productive in the country prior to the closures led to the decline in habitat that was caused by their protection.

The closures led to the declines in biomass most notably finfish, shrimp, scallops, and species such as spots that no longer can produce enough mass to have an appreciable fall harvest as was always seen.

The theory was based on the thought that man destroyed these areas and they had to be protected. Before closure, in them lived huge amounts of finfish and other forage species for trout and other species such as drum that depended on them for subsistence.

The funny thing about most of the species of shrimp and even the finfish, most spawn in the ocean during an annual migration for adults to those waters and the fry migrated back into those water bodies where they grew and were sheltered in the SUV.

With the loss of the use of most types of commercial gear and more and more restrictions to supposedly protect the habitat, the SUV began a downward spiral that today shows patchy remaining areas of vegetation that aren’t sufficient to provide the shelter and forage species needed for a thriving environment. When trawled, these areas contained SUV. Without SUV, there is no place for tiny fish and small fish to hide and grow.

Removing man can’t be the answer or this debate would not be happening. Research shows that bottom kicked for clamming chosen because of a lack of SUV will not only develop a thriving clam population with commercial significance but it would also develop large bodies of SUV.

In the past, DMF would respond by closing these areas to protect the SUV without ever wondering if the SUV needed protecting or why it grew in areas actively being kicked for commercial clamming efforts. I suspect they knew why but refused to allow facts and data to interfere with their preferred dialog.

Today we lack enough SUV to support a flounder population that while under active management for the last 40 year has dwindled and despite record low efforts at harvest has failed to rebound to previous levels. Bay scallops which also need SUV as critical habitat have dwindled and disappeared in significant commercial quantities. Drum while much stronger than 40 years ago because of the lack of sustainable habitat along with SUV areas and the supporting biomass needed for them to thrive also lag despite draconian harvest limits by commercial and recreational fishermen. Trout as well continue to be hit or miss seasons and limits have been more and more restrictive despite the science that shows our population is always a bad winter away from losing 75-905 of those trout but yet overfishing is the mantra.

An interesting fact is that while under management, flounder, clams and trout and striped bass have seen declines for levels seen in the past. The MFC and their efforts that have mainly involved closing thousands of acres of bottom and more and more gear restrictions along with a massive decline in harvest effort all have a common thread.

They have failed to either maintain or restore a sustainable population of those species despite their restrictive efforts at protection.

The question I have is short and direct “How many species have to disappear from NC waters before the MFC decides they have the wrong approach” The current legacy of the MFC and its Fishery Management Plans is that of failure. Yet, despite the obvious failure of these methods, here we go again with a new round of bottom closures that can only accelerate the death of these water bodies in the name of bycatch.

Interesting that areas such as Jarrett’s Bay and Oyster Creek near Williston and Davis as well as Long Bay and Nelsons Bay near Sea Level and South River despite no trawling efforts for over 40 years have failed to restore or even maintain the biomass once seen in all of them.

When they were trawled, they supported large amounts of SUV and bycatch species. They were not filled with organic silt and the creeks were able to carry out their role in the growth and sheltering of many species in the grass while they grew to more useful sizes for men and served as a forage food for the many varieties of fish that lived in those bays and creeks.

Observation is a scientific method and when we can observe that an action fails to achieve the effect, we can conclude its theory was wrong. The repeating of that action in other places can only lead to the same failure already observed.

I see no need to repeat past failures and call for a reexamination of current policies and their scientific basis. Only real sunshine on the darkness of fake science and pseudo-peer review will prevent the total destruction of what remains of a once strong and functioning environment that once supported our fisheries in a sustainable manner.

It’s time we got this right and clearly data, history and science show that closing more bodies of water will only result in less harvest and less biomass in those areas.

I began this letter by confessing my love for my community and the commercial fishing industry that used to support a major part of the community Downeast and other areas of our state. I use my heart to develop the passion I have for the waters and their best use in the future.

As a trained scientist. I can use my eyes and head to see the abject failure of current theories and policies and now a new proposal that science and history say can only produce more failure looms as the next disaster in Fisheries management.

It’s time we admit the failures of the past and of past managers and adopt real measures based on sustainable science that will produce the results we need for our waters to be filled with fish again.

Current methods and theories have a legacy of failure that should dictate a new course.

KERRY A. WILLIS, MD

(7) comments

David Collins

Silt , yes it is a large part of the problem . Where does most of this silt come from ? It comes from development . Development around the protected areas and upstream of these bodies of water as well . In some areas the construction of causeways rather than bridges slows the natural water flow allowing the silt to fallout of the water column and build up causing the muck that exists today . Queens Creek and the White Oak are prime examples of this . Been watching this happen for almost 40 years now , folks realize this is happening and it is a problem but that is as far as it goes . Had the opportunity to do something years ago but now houses and other structures were allowed to be built and the cost , along with howls of well connected protest , would be more than the folks on Jones Street could bear .

It is what it is and will continue to be what it is for the foreseeable future . Really does seem like nobody that could remediate cares , probably not being affected by it directly or seeing it from their houses . Out of sight , out of mind .

Ole seadog

The areas being closed are somewhat remote from the developed areas on Carteret County. The biggest change is in the clearing of the wetlands for farming in Smyrna Farms and Open Gournd farms. The connection of their ditches with core sounds creeks and tributaries have led to the silting. But then this isn't really silt its rotted organic material that is decomposing and suffocating grass beds that leads to the decline of the biomass in the creeks. Closing bottom removes activity that stirs and exposes the silt to an accelerated degradation by micro marine organisms. The result is it accumulates faster than it degrades and the creek dies......Its not all that complicated.

dc

He's been gone 54 yrs but seem to remember my dad talk about when he rafted logs down the WO there was plenty of water from Stella to the sawmills in Boro

drewski

Silt...a natural process, fast moving water carries silt till it hits slow moving water, then it drops. When enough silt builds up the river stream creek changes course, and the process starts again. Think the Mississippi delta. The scale varies of course. The damage to sea grass is limited to the area around the outfall.

Bycatch, every fish removed from the water, doesn't reproduce, fish spawn in great numbers to account for predation,accidents,and incidents. Nature is smart that way. Each reproductive cycle through the fishes life makes more fish. Remove large numbers, hundred of tons of juvenile fish and what happens fish stocks go into severe decline.

Blaming silt is pardon the expression " a red herring"

We needed go to the grand banks, nor the great lakes for examples, let's go back to the smell of money at the menhayden plant. While other factors were also in play in the decline of the fish oil industry, over the years the once extremely plentiful menhayden disappeared. Shall we blame silt there too? I get it small operators, with small boats don't like restrictions, and don't have a lot of options. Times change some folks adapt, some dont.

(Edited by staff.)

David Collins

Some activities have more of an immediate effect than others . More noticeable . All of the above activities contribute to the decline of the various fisheries . Not equally but contribute they do .

Years ago , an individual wiser than I stated that commercial fishermen take and never give back . What think you ?

Carteret Native 01

I'm sure Dr. Willis is a better Medical Doctor than he is a Marine Biologist. He seems to believe that the acts of commercial fishing improve the habitat and increase marine populations. That's not scientifically supportable, Dr. Willis. Kicking clams doesn't do much for the marine grasses that support the scallop populations. Plow up the grasses kicking clams and the scallops vanish. As for siltation, it's a natural process in habitat evolution. And, it's probably better to have the silt sequestered on the bottom than constantly agitated back into suspension in the water column. All over the world, as fishing has become more efficient, commercial fishermen have over-exploited stocks. It is also inarguable that sport fishermen have been profligate with the seas bounty, believing as commercial fishermen do, that the seas resources are inexhaustible. Witness every summer the Big Rock, killing marlin and justifying it as a charity. Imagine the outrage if tournaments were organized to catch and kill the largest elephants, big cats or pandas. Is commercial trade of illicit endangered wildlife parts much different from commercial fishing for dwindling stocks. Must we wait until most commercial viable marine species are declared endangered before we act? Let's limit shrimping until we we can find a way to limit collateral damage.

dc

Like everything else China hogs the world's fish. Supposedly, fish are healthy right? Okinawa has the most centenarians but supposedly fish is only about 1% of their diet.

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