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January 18, 2017
Oriental’s harbor was missing much of its usual commercial fishing fleet yesterday. The trawlers were up the Neuse, anchored off Union Point at New Bern. They were there to make a statement against a proposed reduction in the waters where they can operate.
On land a few hundred yards away, five advisory committees to the NC Marine Fisheries Commission were holding a joint meeting at the New Bern Riverfront Convention Center. They were there to hear public comment on a petition by the North Carolina Wildlife Federation to ban shrimp trawling in North Carolina estuarine waters (the sound & rivers). The committees charged with making a recommendation to approve or deny the petition were the Northern Coast, Southern Coast, Finfish, Habitat and Water Quality, and Shellfish/Crustacean.
This map (prepared by the Southern Environmental Law Center) shows what is currently defined as a nursery (where trawling is not permitted) and what would be defined as a nursery if the proposal was accepted:
What follows are the views of those two opposing sides.
From NC Wildlife Federation:
“North Carolina is the only state on the east coast to allow shrimp trawling in its sounds, fish nurseries, and estuaries. This petition for rule-making aims to bring North Carolina in line with all other east coast and Gulf states in limiting trawling in sensitive and critical nursery and habitat areas.”
The NC Wildlife Federation Petition Re Trawling.At The Meeting(source of the petition), a non-profit organization that whose stated purpose is “Protecting Preserving and Restoring North Carolina Wildlife & Habitat.” Association is a non-profit group representing the commercial fishing industry. , a state board that defines policies and regulations governing commercial fishing in the state. , a state government agency that enforces the policies and rules adopted by the Marine Fisheries Commission.What HappenedWhen the meeting began at 12:30p, 850 commercial fishermen had signed in. Many of those reserved a 3 minute slot to offer comments during the public hearing part of the meeting. NC Marine Patrol officers estimated close to a thousand people were present soon after the meeting got underway. They estimated that less than ten percent were there in support of the Wildlife Federation’s petition. The fisherman also anchored 27 trawlers in the Trent and Neuse Rivers by the Convention Center.
North Carolina produces three varieties of shrimp, pink, brown, and white. The trawling industry has been in existence since 1917.
The Wildlife Federation says that trawling for shrimp in estuaries does not just net shrimp. The practice, it says, has also been destroying a significant percentage of juvenile fish, particularly spot, croakers, and trout, species also known as weak fish, and once caught in the shrimp nets, ‘by-catch.’ The fishermen’s group, the NC Fisheries Association, counters that by-catch has been reduced demonstrably in recent years by way of gear modifications, area closures and harvest restrictions and by-catch reduction devices,. It presented testimony that those devices had reduced by-catch by close to 50% on trawlers that were monitored and videoed by scientists from the NC Division of Marine Fisheries.
When the committees were having a question and answer period with the Wildlife Federation, the Federation said they had no figures on what the economic impact its proposed ban would have in North Carolina.
The public comment period after presentations by the Wildlife Federation and the Division of Marine Fisheries did not start until late in the afternoon. Among the fishermen, lawyers, and marine scientists who spoke , the vast majority pleaded for a denial of the petition.
The public comment period lasted until 7pm.A crowded convention center. (click the image for a lerger view, and more photos from the meeting)
Among the comments opposing the new restrictions was the argument that one cormorant, will consume 1.7 pounds of juvenile fish in a day and that its population is on the rise. One Harkers Island fisherman said that as the waterfowl eat more, “They are growing and reproducing more and more and that is consuming juvenile fish daily, whereas we are highly regulated in the number of days we can catch shrimp and the amount of shrimp we can harvest.”
Fishermen also cited the competition they face from foreign imports, often sold a a lower pricethan the domestic wild catch.
After discussion among the five advisory committees to the Marine Fisheries Commission, each of the five voted to recommend that the Commission deny the petition. The Commission can accept that recommendation or change the rules as it sees fit. The Marine Fisheries Commission will meet in February to make its final decision.
The public comment period did not end with Tuesday’s meeting. Written comments must be received by 5p Friday January 20. They may be emailed to: NCWFPetition@ncdenr.gov or sent to NCWF Petition, Marine Fisheries Commission Office, N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries, PO Box 769, Morehead City, N.C. 28557Trawlers anchored off New Bern Tuesday
Posted Wednesday January 18, 2017 by Keith N. Smith
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