Commentary: OBCatch responds to shrimp petition

By on February 2, 2017

 Editor’s note: Outer Banks Catch executive director Sandy Semans Ross presented the group’s position on the proposal by the N.C. Wildlife Federation that could result in major changes to the state’s commercial trawling industry.

Outer Banks Catch is a non-profit group focused on providing fact-based education to consumers about the commercial fishing industry and communities, and the habitat and water quality needed to maintain a robust fishery.

With that mission comes a responsibility to correct erroneous statements whether made in the press or, such as in this case, in petitions for rule-making before the North Carolina Marine Fisheries Commission.

The petition filed by the Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of the North Carolina Wildlife Federation is based on the work of Jack Travelstead, an employee of the Coastal Conservation Association, and former N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries director, Louis Daniel, now contracted with NCWF.

The document, amendment and submitted public comments contain few statements that Outer Banks Catch could provide to the public and stand behind their legitimacy.

The petition requests designating all inland waters and three miles out into the ocean as a huge special secondary nursery area, thus prohibiting almost all shrimp trawling.

North Carolina has three shrimp species found in the sounds, and each is harvested at different times beginning in the Spring and stretching into the fall.

In 2016, there was an abnormal run of shrimp that was harvested into January 2017 but most years, the season begins about the first of June and ends in October. Designation of the inland and ocean waters as Special Secondary Nursery Areas (SSNAs) would carry with it a prohibition of shrimping and other trawling activities such as crab and clams in the sounds and flounder in the ocean from May 15 to August 15.

The petition states that if adopted, it would require two by-catch reduction devices, which has been required for many years and has been successful, and work is underway to add more adaptations to further reduce by-catch.

Thus far, the new adaptations are showing an additional 40-50 percent reduction in by-catch.

Information presented by Division of Marine Fisheries staff at the recent hearing debunked many of the assertions put forth by the petitioner.

About 45 percent of the estuary, 900,000 acres, is already closed to trawling but this petition seeks to expand that to a 100 percent closure of 2.2 million acres of coastal waters.

SSNAs are closed based on a specific criteria which includes collecting data on fish and shrimp abundance, habitat, etc. Currently that information doesn’t exist for the huge area being sought.

The petition is seeking closures that exceed that in place with existing SSNAs. NCWF requests shrimping be limited to daytime hours, 45-minute tows and open only three days a week.

The proposed closures do not take into consideration the wide range of abundance of fish and shrimp or habitat conditions found in the estuary. Nor does it address the differences of the three shrimp species found here.

Brown and pink shrimp are more active at night while white shrimp is a day-time sort of creature.

The prohibitions would also impact crab and peeler trawling, clam kicking and live bait harvest.

The petitioner notes that stocks of spot, croaker and weakfish (gray trout) are suffering from trawling but there is no science to support that.

Spot is listed as a ‘concern’, but there is no coast-wide stock assessment, and fisheries scientists are unable to determine if it is over fished.

Croakers are listed as ‘concern’ but also noted by DMF staff as not being over fished or no evidence of overfishing.  Biomass, age structure and recruitment are increasing.

The N.C. Wildlife Federation wants a 10-inch size limit on this species but ir rarely grows larger than 7.5 inches!

Weakfish has continued to decline for decades and scientists have eliminated overfishing as the reason.

The petition has drawn the scorn of many fisheries scientists who have noted incorrect, incomplete data and in some cases, the use of information taken out of context.

According to Marine Fisheries rules, petitions are not to be accepted by the commission for consideration for rule-making unless accompanied by an economic impact statement. There is no such statement attached to the petition.

The fisheries of the state are a public trust resource that belong to all citizens. Commercial fishing is the only access that most consumers have to this nutritious food source.

It is imperative that fisheries be managed toward the goal of maintaining a robust resource by using peer-reviewed science, adequate data, sound judgment and a commitment to being good stewards.

This petition fulfills none of those goals.


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