Monday, July 12, 2010

Speckled Trout; We Told You So! Latest Failure of NC Marine Fisheries Management

On July 1, 2010, a press release from the NC Division of Marine Fisheries announced that the current status of the Speckled Trout (Spotted Sea Trout) here in NC had been downgraded to "DEPLETED" and "OVERFISHED". It also stated that the "overfishing" had been occurring for years!

Let's flash-back now to just over a year ago to the Spring of 2009 when the Director of the NCDMF stood in Raleigh before a committee in the General Assembly and gave a "glowing" report of the NC situation on Speckled Trout. He said "There is no biological or scientific reason that Speckled Trout should be given "Game Fish" protection."

Being pushed by the commercial fishing interests and politicians that basically run our Marine Fisheries here in NC, the director did everything in his power to derail the "game fish bill" that was introduced last year that would have taken Red Drum and Speckled Trout into a realm of protection from commercial harvest and sale.

One of the director's arguments against HB 918 (the game fish bill) was that even though our sister state South Carolina has made Speckled Trout a "Game Fish", NC recreational anglers still caught more Speckled Trout total than South Carolina anglers did. On the surface, that sounds like a powerful argument doesn't it? But the details on those numbers were conveniently omitted.

In comparing NC to SC and the numbers on Speckled Trout, consider this;

South Carolina has banned “gill nets” in coastal waters, and has given “game fish” designation to Speckled Trout and Red Drum.

SC has around 100,000 issued saltwater licenses for fishing in its coastal waters. NC has over 500,000.

Even with five times as many saltwater recreational anglers pursuing the Speckled Trout, NC only caught a mere few thousand pounds more than SC anglers did during the time frame that the director mentioned. That means that per angler, SC is catching almost five times as much speckled trout per angler than NC is.

For some reason, this wasn't pointed out to the committee that day. Why wasn't it?

This fact proves that the Speckled Trout fishing in SC is five times better than it is here in NC, and would explain the following as well. NC issued about 1500 non-resident saltwater licenses to South Carolinians during this time frame, while SC issued over 10,000 non-resident saltwater licenses to North Carolinians during the same time frame!

Is it any wonder that North Carolinians are trekking to SC to fish for Speckled Trout? We are losing sport fishing revenues to not only South Carolina, but to Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Texas, and Louisiana as well!

Will the current oil spill in the gulf send more commercial fishing pressures our way?

North Carolina has 4,000,000 (four million) acres of coastal/joint waters, and 4,000 miles of shoreline. Those numbers dwarf the coastal waters of South Carolina! Yet, NC anglers just barely caught more Speckled Trout total than SC anglers did. Now we hear the real truth, NC Speckled Trout are depleted and overfished.

Could our director of Marine Fisheries have known this fish was in dire straits last year when he stood in front of our NC legislators and news reporters in Raleigh declaring there was no need for "game fish" protection?

The Speckled Trout is the number one targeted fish by saltwater anglers here in our state. Its future is of tremendous importance for both economic and recreational reasons. Historically this fish has only represented .4% (less than one half percent) of the commercial harvest revenues here in NC.

Something is desperately wrong here!

We ask the question now, is there any biological or scientific reason to offer "Game Fish" protection to our NC Speckled Trout?