By Outer Banks Voice on January 11, 2017
By Megan M. Spencer
Hyde County Commissioners, along with local stakeholders and seafood advocates, have issued strong opposition to proposed rules that would result in major changes to the state’s commercial trawling industry. They say the restrictions could ultimately end the state’s access shrimp.
A petition for the changes was submitted to the North Carolina Marine Fisheries Commission on Nov. 2 by The North Carolina Wildlife Federation. It asks the state to designate coastal fishing waters in the sounds and 3 miles into the ocean as primary nursery areas for various fisheries.
The petition was discussed at the commission’s November meeting. On Jan. 17, five joint advisory committees will meet and hear public comment on the issue in New Bern. Then, the commission will review comments and take action at its February meeting.
Other rule changes outlined in the 99-page NCWF petition are: Limiting shrimp trawling to three days a week; limiting trawling to daytime only; limiting the total head rope (the span of the nets) to 90 feet; establishing 45-minute tow times; define type of gear and how it can be used in special secondary nursery areas;and opening the season based on a 60 shrimp per pound.
Last week, Hyde County Board of Commissioners passed a resolution opposing the rules. Dare County and its towns are also taking up resolutions. Groups such as North Carolina Catch and the North Carolina Fisheries Association have taken stands against the petition and an individual effort has started a counter-petition.
The Hyde resolution says that hundreds of local businesses and families depend on catches from trawlers. Shrimp catches represent paychecks for the captain, crew and seafood industry, as well as products to market to visitors. The affects range across the 20 coastal North Carolina counties that boast a commercial fishing history.
“This petition would obviously cripple the state’s shrimp fishery, which is the second most valuable in our state and supports a number of other valuable industries such as gear design and manufacture, boat building and repair, refrigeration and repair, mechanical engineering, marine propulsion dealers, fuel distribution, seafood processing and a vibrant restaurant industry,” said Lauren Salter of Williston.
Salter serves on the board of directors for North Carolina Catch, a statewide group that works with several localized fishing partnerships to educate consumers about the importance of buying local seafood.
“This goes beyond shrimping,” said Salter, who is also the daughter of a down-east commercial fisherman. “If special interest groups continue to successfully limit access to our seafood by skillfully sidestepping the established fisheries management process, no seafood will be safe.”
Already, some 90 percent of shrimp consumed in the country is imported, she said. “North Carolina’s fishing industry cannot be expected to operate under regulations based on pseudoscience and political agenda. (The fishery) will eventually succumb to death by a thousand cuts,” she said.
“I’m just one of many in eastern North Carolina that have invested their life in a business that has strived to be a steward to the citizens of North Carolina by providing fresh, local, all natural products,” said Zack Davis, a shrimper from Marshallburg.
“I’d have to find another job,” said Swan Quarter captain Bruce Hodges.
More than 1,000 people have signed a counter-petition on change.org to oppose the trawling rules.
Public comment will be accepted during a joint advisory committee meeting at 12:30 p.m., Jan. 17 at the New Bern Convention Center. The meeting will be similar to one that was held in 2013, where trawlers steamed up the Neuse river in opposition.
Members of the public also may comment on the petition in writing to (until Jan 20) to: NCWFPetition@ncdenr.gov or to: NCWF Petition, Marine Fisheries Commission Office, N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries, P.O. Box 769 Morehead City, N.C. 28557.