Thursday, November 8, 2012


     The Marine Fisheries Commission at their meeting today in Morehead City voted 8-1 to amend the Shrimp FMP.  The vote signalled a turnaround from the Division of Marine Fisheries' previous intent to only seek a revision of the shrimp FMP.
     The CFRG and other groups fought hard for an amendment to the FMP rather than a revision of it.  A simple revision would have meant the FMP would have stood for at least five more years.  The CFRG contended the FMP glossed over the by catch issue.
     The Commisioners voted to amend the plan and focus on the issue of by catch.  Director Louis Daniel of the DMF stated his agency's position to seek a revision had changed following public input requesting the amendment.  He urged the Commissioners to vote for an amendment.

Coastal Fisheries Reform Group Presents Proposal to Reduce Shrimp Trawl Bycatch

In order to protect our juvenile finfish stocks from excessive bycatch in shrimp trawls and to maintain our important shrimp fishing industry, the Coastal Fisheries Reform Group (CFRG)  presented a 5-point proposal to the MFC at today's meeting.
Every year, North Carolina shrimp trawlers kill hundreds of millions of juvenile fish as bycatch, which seriously damages our fish stocks. To reduce this bycatch, the CFRG is proposing new limits on trawl net size, shrimp size, tow times, and trawling near inlets, along with proper monitoring of fish populations to determine how these changes effect the stocks.

The changes proposed by CFRG are a serious compromise that will protect both the fish and local commercial shrimpers. It is expected that the Marine Fisheries Commission will make these changes before shrimp season starts in 2013 as they formulate an amendment for the shrimp management plan. To view the full CFRG proposal on trawling rule changes,see the following post CFRG 5-Point Proposal to Reduce Trawler By Catch 


North Carolina once had a recreational fishery that was second to none and a source of great pride to our state. Today this fishery pales in comparison to what it once was and many of our fish species are now depleted from years of overfishing. In 1998, a study on shrimp trawling by the National Marine Fisheries Service was reported to the U.S. Congress (1). It showed that in 5695 tows by shrimp trawlers, an average of 4.5 pounds of bycatch occurred for every pound of shrimp that was harvested. Most of the bycatch consisted of small finfish such as croaker, spot, and weakfish. This study opened many eyes and caused states all along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts to begin enacting rules to try to lessen shrimp trawl bycatch. The result over several years was that out of eight shrimp-producing states in this region, four eliminated commercial trawling in inshore waters (GA, SC, TX, and FL), and three severely restricted it via head rope size (LA, AL, and MS). That left North Carolina as the only state to allow virtually unrestricted shrimp trawling to occur in inshore waters. While others heeded the national study and enacted measures to protect their fish nurseries, North Carolina trawled on.
Recently, the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries (NCDMF) repeated the national trawler study in North Carolina waters by analyzing bycatch from 505 tows by commercial shrimp trawlers (2, 3). As one might expect, the end result was very similar to the prior study with an average bycatch to shrimp ratio of 3.6 to 1 (by weight). As was seen before, most of the bycatch consisted of young croaker, spot, and weakfish. Part of the North Carolina study added a new piece of information by counting individual species in addition to weighing them. This fish count produced another eye opening result. The juvenile finfish were small and had an average weight of between 20-30 fish per pound. Some simple math revealed that over the last five years, North Carolina’s average shrimp harvest of just over 7 million pounds per year was causing approximately 25 million pounds of bycatch per year. Astonishingly, at the lower estimate of 20 fish per pound, this would extrapolate to an average of approximately 500 million small fish being killed every year! Even more astonishing was the fact that this result was expected and was considered as “nothing new” by those who have studied this problem for years.
In spite of knowing all of this, and with new studies in hand, the NCDMF recommended a “revision” of the shrimp management plan. This meant that the management plan would continue on with no substantial changes to address the problem of bycatch. The NCDMF also recommended additional studies on the issue of bycatch, even though they had just completed a large study that had results similar to those reported by the larger national study. In the time since that recommendation was made several months ago, the news of the results of the bycatch studies spread and the public outcry has grown louder with recreational fishermen demanding that the shrimp management plan be “amended” to allow rule changes that would lessen bycatch. More studies are not needed, it is simply time to act upon the data we already have.
While an amendment to the shrimp management plan is being considered, the Coastal Fisheries Reform Group (CFRG), which represents recreational fishermen in North Carolina, is requesting that immediate changes be implemented. These changes can be made without delay by using the power of proclamation at the February 2013 Marine Fisheries Commission (MFC) meeting. A proclamation can be used because the third most abundant finfish species in our bycatch is the weakfish (grey trout). The NCDMF studies indicate that tens of millions of juvenile weakfish are killed in our shrimp trawlers every year. While we waste these fish, they are sadly classified as depleted after being severely overfished for many years. The MFC and NCDMF can act immediately by proclamation to protect any fish that is in such bad shape and they must not delay. It should also be noted that lessening weakfish deaths in bycatch will also lessen the destruction of croaker and spot, two species which have also greatly declined after once being a plentiful and popular target of recreational fisherman. These fish all need protection now and the CFRG proposes the following changes to address the unacceptably large loss of juvenile finfish that occurs during shrimp trawling:
1. Limit all trawl nets in inshore coastal waters to a maximum headrope size of 35 feet and only allow one net per boat. This would remove the large nets and their excessive bycatch but would allow the small trawlers that have shrimped in our sounds for generations to continue working uninterrupted. These boats are mostly local boats, with local crews that sell their catch at local fish houses in North Carolina. Such a rule change would greatly benefit the vast majority of North Carolina shrimpers while truly helping our coastal economies and our marine resources.
2. Limit tow times to 45 minutes. This would allow for some bycatch to be released alive and also increase the chance of sparing any endangered turtles which are entrapped in the net.
3. Delay shrimp season until the shrimp size has reached the level of having 36 to 41 (or lower) shrimp per pound. This would postpone the harvest of shrimp and allow juvenile finfish to grow larger and have more of a chance of escaping shrimp trawls. These fish would also have more time to move out of their nursery areas where the trawlers are now working. In addition, this change would cause the shrimp to be larger when they are harvested and market value would be greater, thereby benefiting shrimp fishermen.
4. Establish trawler prohibition zones around both sides of our inlets. This would allow juvenile finfish that are transitioning to a life in the open ocean to escape our sounds without being killed by a shrimp trawler. These fish become concentrated when they are near the inlets and are especially vulnerable to trawlers until they can disperse into the ocean.
5. Set easily measured parameters that will allow for the monitoring of any changes in measures such as biomass, juvenile abundance index, and fish population so that the effects of these trawling rule changes can be assessed. This will allow North Carolina to determine if the health of our sounds is improving and indicate whether additional changes are required.

These changes can and must be made immediately in order to protect juvenile finfish. We expect that this will be done at or before the February 2013 MFC meeting so that all changes will be in place well before shrimp trawling season begins next year. We are asking North Carolina to implement these reasonable protective measures in the hope that more restrictive measures can be avoided if we are forced to approach this problem in an alternative manner.


1. Nance, J. M. (Editor). 1998. Report to Congress. Southeastern United States Shrimp Trawl Bycatch Program, 154 p. Contributors are listed in alphabetical order: Foster, D., Martinez, E., McIlwain, T., Nance, J., Nichols, S., Raulerson, R., Schirripa, M., Scott, G., Scott-Denton, E., Shah, A. and Watson, J.
2. Brown, K. 2009. Characterization of the near-shore commercial shrimp trawl fishery from Carteret County to Brunswick County, NC. Completion report for NOAA award # NA05NMF4741003. North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries, Morehead City, NC.
3. Brown, K. 2010. Characterization of the commercial shrimp trawl fishery in Pamlico Sound and its tributaries, NC. Completion report for NOAA award # NA05NMF4741003. North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries, Morehead City, NC.

Monday, October 29, 2012


     The meeting schedules have been set for the Marine Fisheries Commission to decide whether to amend or revise the shrimp FMP. Also, the commission will be asked to select preferred management options for the commercial flounder fishery and vote to send a draft amendment to the Southern Flounder Fishery Management Plan for Department of Environment and Natural Resources legislative review.
     The CFRG is on record as supporting an amendment to the shrimp FMP. If the Commission elects to only do a revision, the FMP will basically remain the same and no discussion of shrimp by catch will be required. The CFRG believes the by catch issue is glossed over in the existing FMP and a much more comprehensive amendment is needed to rectify this.
     The meetings will be held Nov. 7-9 at the Crystal Coast Civic Center, 3505 Arendell St., Morehead City. Public input will be received at the Nov. 7 meeting which begins at 6:00 p.m. Speakers will be limited to five minutes. On Nov. 8, the meeting will begin at 9:00 a.m. and presentations will be limited to three minutes. Remember, you can only speak at one of the meetings.
     For those of you unable to attend the meeting, you can submit your comments to Your comments will be forwarded to the Chairman of the Commission and added to the public record.
     The CFRG encourages everyone to participate in this extremely important process. Numbers count and we must make our voices heard, if we expect the MFC to make changes to the way shrimp are harvested in our inshore waters. The goal of the CFRG is to encourage the MFC to develop methods and time lines for reducing by catch of fin fish.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Coastal Fisheries Reform Group (CFRG) is a coalition of recreational coastal fishermen, who support sound management of our marine fisheries based upon the best available science. We represent many thousands of fishermen from across the state who fish in our coastal waters. We have had 122,533 visits to our blog site ( where we have discussed coastal fisheries issues since 2009. 
In the role as a voice for the average salt water fisherman, we submit the following comments on the proposed Shrimp FMP revision that the Marine Fisheries Commission will consider at their November meeting.   First and foremost, the by-catch of juvenile finfish taken in otter trawls used to harvest shrimp in North Carolina inshore waters is excessive and potentially harmful to the life cycles of some of the important finfish that are being killed and discarded. Recent studies by DMF personnel revealed alarming numbers of juvenile finfish in the by-catch of otter trawls with estimates in the range of a combined 300,000,000 young spot, croaker, and weakfish taken each year.
In our opinion, this by-catch is excessive given the relative small annual harvest of shrimp (6 million pounds valued at about $11,000,000.) Economic studies have shown the value of recreational fisheries to be many times greater than the commercial harvest. In the shrimp trawl fishery, you have the harvest of one commercial species (shrimp) cutting into the productivity of three species of fin fish (spot, croaker, and weakfish) whose recreational value is much greater than the product taken. This equation cannot be balanced in any way that you try to solve it.

While many options exist, some of which are described in the current Draft Shrimp FMP revision, to reduce the trawling by-catch without compromising the annual harvest of shrimp in North Carolina, the proposal recommends that none of them be implemented as management measures in the next five years. Instead, the recommendation is to adopt a status quo position with regard to by-catch. This “No Action” is unacceptable given the severity of the problem and the overwhelming evidence that otter trawling for shrimp is inherently destructive to the habitat and to a major portion of the finfish resource.

We think the preferred management action should be to move trawls out of inshore waters altogether and as soon as possible due to the damage they do to the bottom, the sedimentation they cause, and the destruction of way too many juvenile finfish. Moving trawlers three miles offshore has been the solution in most Atlantic and Gulf States.  

The Shrimp FMP should be amended (not revised) to include goals, timetables and management measures that will achieve significant by catch reduction within the next five year period.  We quote here from the proposed revision:

“As perhaps the prime example of the new policy positions, the re-authorized Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSFCMA) contains a National Standard (#9) requiring bycatch minimization (USDOC 1996). National Standard 9 states: “Conservation and management measures shall, to the extent practicable, (A) minimize bycatch and (B) to the extent bycatch cannot be avoided, minimize the mortality of such bycatch." Additionally, in 1991 the MFC adopted a policy directing the DMF to establish the goal of reducing bycatch losses to the absolute minimum and to consciously incorporate that goal into all of its, management considerations (Murrary et al. 1991).”

It is time to follow the national and state policies pointing to the importance of reducing by-catch. We can start with an amendment to the Shrimp FMP that does this in an effective way.

One additional factor that needs to be incorporated into the Shrimp FMP for the next five years is the continuation of the requirement that Turtle Excluding Devices be used in shrimp trawls. This requirement should be expanded to all types of trawls operating in waters where endangered and threatened sea turtles are found. In areas where, and times when, sea turtles are especially abundant, tow times for shrimp trawling should be reduced to a period that will prevent mortality of any sea turtle that may be engaged.
Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the Shrimp FMP. Please consider and share our points as you decide how to proceed in the important process of reviewing the Plan.


Trawler By Catch

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The following letter was sent to North Carolina legislators today.
Recent studies by the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries have shown that approximately 78 percent (by weight) of what is caught in shrimp trawls is untargeted "by catch" that will die before being shoveled overboard.  More shockingly, the annual by catch from NC shrimp trawlers consists of over 500 million individual small fish.

Most of these fish are croaker, spot and weakfish (grey trout).  The combined total for these three species is approximaely 300 million fingerlings every year for the last five years.  The biological affects of this yearly by catch are not officially known, but it is easy to see the real-life effects of this wanton waste.

Croaker and spot fishing were a traditional part of our coastal communities for generations, but these fish have markedly declined and no longer are an important part of our coastal culture.  Pier and surf fishermen armed with bloodworms for catching plentiful spot once lined the shorelines from Nags Head to Wrightsville Beach but with the depletion of the spot, the pilgrimage to the beach has declined, taking with it the immense stimulus to local economies from visiting fishermen.

Weakfish (grey trout) were once abundant in our coastal waters, with coolers full of fish being a common daily catch, but they are now officially classified as depleted and are all but lost as a recreational target.  Overfish of adult fish accompanied by the losses due to shrimp trawlers have decimated this once plentiful fish.  The recreationl limit is now set at one fish per day which must be at least 12 inches in length - that's hardly a good day of fishing.

As other states outlawed or severly curtailed shrimp trawling in inshore water, the trawlers came to North Carolina.  North Carolina remains the only state in the Southeast that has not greatly limited (or banned) shrimp trawling in their inshore waters.  As the destruction of our marine fisheries persists and our fish populatons continue to decline, other states have built thriving fishereis that support an ever-growing legion of recreational  fishermen who spend billions of dollars a year on   their hobby.

For years, the North Carolina Marine Fisheries Commission and the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries have been aware of the problems caused by shrimp trawling but have chosen to ignore the issue.  Shrimpers have the option of using less destructive and more targt-specifid gear, but with no restrictions forced by our fisheries managers, they have not changed their practices.  All of this destruction occurs for a relatively small amount of shrimp (approximately 5 million pound in 2011), that supports a very small group of trawler owners.

The Coastal Fisheries Reform Group is asking the state's citizens and its elected representatives to step in and force changes to allow North Carolina's sounds to recover and grow back into what was once one of the greatest fisheries in the world.  Thes problems can only be corrected with your help.  Pleaser direct the Marine Fisheries Commission to address the shrimp trawl by catch problem by eliminating trawling our our inshore waters.

Relative biomass (kg) observed in all net types combined in the

commercial shrimp trawl fisheries in Pamlico Sound and its

tributaries, North Carolina, 1 July 2009 to 31 December 2009*


Common Name              Total Number        Total Weight        % Biomass
Atlantic Croaker                787,633                 18,367                   33

Brown Shrimp                   511,395                 11,608                   21

Spot                                   404,076                  7,029                    13

Weakfish                           213,578                  3,530                     6

Total ………………………………........................................... 73

*This table was derived from: “ INTERSTATE FISHERIES MANAGEMENT PROGRAM IMPLEMENTATION FOR NORTH CAROLINA By Kevin Brown. Completion Report for NOAA Award No.


CAROLINA FISHERIES. JOB 2: Characterization of the inshore commercial shrimp trawl fishery in
Pamlico Sound and its tributaries, North Carolina June 2010”




Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Atlantic and Gulf States Inshore
Commercial Shrimping Regulations

State Inshore Trawling Rule

Texas                  Not permitted

Louisiana           Max. 50 ft head rope*

Mississippi         Max. 50 ft head rope

Alabama              Max. 50 ft head rope

Florida                 500 sq. ft. max. net size**

Georgia                Not permitted

South Carolina    Not permitted

North Carolina    No limits to trawl net size in most inland waters
*A head rope is the rope that stretches across the mouth of the net
** This small net  is used for catching bait

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

     In the coming weeks, recreational fishermen will have the opportunity to influence an issue that is having a major effect on fish populations in North Carolina. Four public meetings will be held where comments on the topic of shrimp trawling will be allowed.
     North Carolina is the last state on the Atlantic Coast to allow commercial shrimp trawling in internal waters. As other states banned this terribly destructive practice, their trawlers came to our sounds.
     Recent studies by the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries (NCDMF) showed that shrimp trawlers kill an estimated 500 million (half a billion!) small fish every year. Most of this "bycatch" consists of weakfish, croaker, and spot, and these finger-sized fish are destroyed before they reach breeding age, guaranteeing that the fish populations in our sounds cannot recover.
     All recreational fishermen who would like to see our fisheries improve, or any individuals with concern for our marine environment, are encouraged to attend a meeting to state their opinion on this issue. Comments on shrimp trawling will be accepted at the following meetings:
Sept. 19 at 4 p.m.

Southern Advisory Committee Meeting

N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources
Wilmington Regional Office
127 Cardinal Drive Extension
Wilmington, NC

Sept. 27 at 4 p.m.

Northern Advisory Committee Meeting

Vernon G. James Research & Extension Center
207 Research Station Road
Plymouth, NC

Oct. 2 at 6 p.m.

Shellfish/Crustacean Meeting

Craven County Cooperative Extension Office
300 Industrial Drive
New Bern, NC

Oct. 2 at 1:30 p.m.

Habitat and Water Quality Meeting

N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources
Washington Regional Office
943 Washington Square Mall
Washington, NC
     If you cannot attend a meeting, your comments can be emailed to Ms. Nancy Fish ( This is a rare opportunity for those who care about our marine fisheries to help change how they are managed and we must not let it slip past. Please attend a meeting or send an email and let your voices be heard!

Friday, August 31, 2012


The Coastal Fisheries Reform Group (CFRG) is urging people to attend one of two upcoming public hearings on a proposed merger of the Wildlife Resources Commission (WRC) and the Marine Resources Commission (MRC).

The first of the meetings will be held Sept 5 starting at 6:00 p.m. at the Craven County Cooperative Extension Office at 300 Industrial Dr. in New Bern. The second meeting will also start at 6:00 p.m. It will be held at the Dare County Administration Bldg, 954 Marshall C. Collins Dr. in Manteo.

The proposed merger of the two agencies was part of a legislative bill signed into law this summer. It directs the two agencies along with the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to study whether these agencies should be reorganized to provide for more efficient, productive and enjoyable uses of the state’s fisheries resources.

Please scroll down to the Monday, August 20, post to learn of the CFRG’s position on the merger proposal. The CFRG believes this merger proposal, modified to include the CFRG’s concerns, is a very important step in the process of improving the management of the state’s marine resources.
Those unable to attend the meetings can still provide their input on the proposed merger. Go to: and enter your comments.

Thursday, August 23, 2012


Coastal Fisheries Reform Group Seeks Immediate Ban on Otter Trawling in NC Waters
Raleigh, NC | Wake County

August 23, 2012

Brownstone Hotel, 1707 Hillsborough Street Raleigh, NC 27605

(919) 828-0811

TIME: 8:30 AM
When the Marine Fisheries Commission meets in Raleigh this week, the Coastal Fisheries Reform Group plans to ask them to implement an immediate prohibition of otter trawling in North Carolina waters.

Extensive studies by scientists at the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries have shown that the use of otter trawls by commercial shrimp operations in North Carolina results in the death of hundreds of millions of fish every year. #1. 

Otter trawls skim the seafloor as they are dragged along and indiscriminately
crush or drown all species that become trapped. Shockingly, most of the harvest with this gear is not
shrimp, but is actually non-targeted “bycatch” that is discarded after being killed and sorted on the deck of the boat.

Three economically important species, weakfish, spot, and croaker, are hit especially hard by
this practice with a combined total of over 200 million finger-sized fish killed every year. These fish are removed from their nursery area before they mature and never have the opportunity to reach breeding age.

The Marine Fisheries Commission now knows of this extensive damage caused by otter trawls and has the power to immediately force shrimpers to use different fishing gear that will greatly decrease the bycatch as they harvest shrimp. The removal of otter trawls from North Carolina waters is a crucial step in allowing our severely overfished marine resources to recover and the Marine Fisheries Commission is being asked to allow this recovery to begin.

CONTACT: Joe Albea | 252.916.0380

#1 1INTERSTATE FISHERIES MANAGEMENT PROGRAM IMPLEMENTATION FOR NORTH CAROLINA By Kevin Brown. Completion Report for NOAA Award No. NA05NMF4741003. Study II DOCUMENTATION AND REDUCTION OF BYCATCH IN NORTH CAROLINA FISHERIES. JOB 2: Characterization of the inshore commercial shrimp trawl fishery in Pamlico Sound and its tributaries, North Carolina June 2010.

Estimates of Cumulative North Carolina Shrimp Trawl Bycatch for Three Important Species

Number of Fish
Year                 Weakfish              Croaker                      Spot
2007             57,223,380           242,245,642            105,863,253
2008             56,545,008           239,373,867            104,608,265
2009             32,446,248           137,355,783              60,025,559
2010             35,732,010           151,265,509              66,104,219
2011             30,842,160           130,565,144              57,057,996
Totals          212,788,806          900,805,945            393,659,292
The following ratios, which were used to make the table presented above, were determined using North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries bycatch data:
      Weakfish - 6.0 weakfish were caught per pound of shrimp harvested
      Croaker - 25.4 croakers were caught per pound of shrimp harvested
      Spot - 11.1 spots were caught per pound of shrimp harvested
Reported North Carolina shrimp harvests for the last five years:
     2007 = 9,537,230 lbs   
     2008 = 9,424,168 lbs
     2009 = 5,407,708 lbs
     2010 = 5,955,335 lbs
     2011 = 5,140,360 lbs
The following was presented by the CFRG to the Marine Fisheries Commission at their meeting in Raleigh August 23 2012.

The following was presented by the CFRG to the Marine Fisheries Commission at their meeting Aug 23, 2012 in Raleigh

Blue Print for Renewal of Marine Resources in North Carolina

For decades North Carolina has relied upon the natural bounty of her coastal rivers, sounds, and estuaries to supply an abundance of commercial and sport fishing opportunities unsurpassed anywhere. Within the memory of middle-aged fishermen is the recollection of plentiful and diverse fish stocks coastwide with no restriction on harvest and no detectable impact on abundance. There seemed to be an inexhaustible supply to support unlimited fishing pressure.

Times have changed. Increasing fishing pressure, the absence of meaningful limits to keep harvest within the confines of productivity, sophisticated fishing techniques, many tons of non-targeted "bycatch", habitat destruction by commercial fishing gear and wetland developments, pollution, and short-sighted management decisions made by policy boards weighted in favor of commercial interests are some of the major factors that have thrown our marine fisheries into turmoil and danger.
Many species of fish previously abundant beyond belief are now depleted and no longer play a role in our fisheries. The river herring, the gray trout, the menhaden, the striped bass, the speckled trout, the red drum, the southern flounder, and even the ubiquitous spot and croaker are all in trouble, overfished, depleted, and struggling in the face of poor management slanted toward immediate returns regardless of long term impacts.
It is now time to draw a line in the sand and say, "No more!". Once our citizens and elected representatives understand how valuable but abused our natural resources are, they too will refrain "No more!".
Our marine resources can and must be managed properly, based upon sound science and current data. No less than total commitment to renewal of these resources is acceptable. The task is formidable but it can be done. Our marine fisheries are resilient and can recover if given the protection and management they deserve and need. The number of people who will be positively affected by such a renewal is astounding with over 1 million North Carolina licensed coastal sport fishermen and women.
We have made some progress recently with the elimination of the menhaden reduction fishery in NC waters, the creation of a rule requiring a super majority of the Marine Fisheries Commission to override a staff recommendation to end overfishing or restore stocks, and a study on the organization of fisheries management programs in North Carolina with a view toward efficiency and effectiveness. In addition, the Governor has upgraded appointments to the Marine Fisheries Commission for greater balance and less special interests by its members. We hope this trend will continue this year with three more good appointments.
Coastal Recreational Fishing

Coastal recreational fishing is a strong and valuable activity to North Carolina and her citizens. Not only is sport fishing a cherished tradition, it generates about $2 billion dollars in revenue every year through direct expenditures of sport fishermen in conjunction with their fishing activities that support many thousands of small businesses and jobs in North Carolina. Coastal recreational fishing is an important driver of North Carolina’s economy that requires no capital investment at all. This is justification enough for expanded emphasis on proper management of this important resource. Renewal of our marine fisheries today will pay tremendous dividends in the near future.

Coastal recreational fishermen have contributed to the decline in fish stocks through past overfishing. Recreational fishermen must be active toward the protection of fish stocks and willing to accept measures required for stock recovery. Recreational fishing rules must be based upon the best available science and enforcement of these rules must be fair, consistent, and vigorous.
Every species of fish must have a management plan that includes harvest quotas and daily bag and size limits based upon current fish stock assessments. The impact of fishing for fun and release must be evaluated and controlled to ensure that mortality is not a problem. For some species, it may be necessary to close the fishing season for periods of time to protect brood stock, foster spawning success, or allow recovery from cold stuns and other negative events.
Allowable gear for recreational fishermen must be carefully prescribed by rule to ensure minimal mortality from hooking for both undersized, targeted fish and non-targeted fish. Such gear as minnow seines, bait traps, cast nets, gigs, and other devices used in conjunction with recreational fishing must be carefully defined and allowed only under circumstances that are compatible with the welfare of the fishery.
Gill nets, strike nets, and trawls have no place in recreational fishing and should be prohibited. The entire concept of "recreational commercial gear" is contradictory and the license that authorizes this activity should be repealed.
Recreational license fees must be reviewed and updated regularly to ensure collection of sufficient funds to support a viable and successful fishery management program. Presently, several fees, including those for both the short term resident and non-resident fishing licenses are too low to generate any funds for management purposes. The use of recreational license fees to support law enforcement as well as fisheries research, habitat enhancement, and fisherman access projects should be allowed. Periodic review of the decision making process controlling the use of recreational license fees should be made.
Equitable representation of recreational fishing interests on decision making boards must be set forth in the fishery management law. The current review of fishery management

programs in North Carolina mandated by the 2012 North Carolina General Assembly and being conducted by the Wildlife Resources Commission, the Division of Marine Fisheries, and the Department of Agriculture should be followed closely to ensure that recommendations coming from this study do not jeopardize in any way the delivery of a sound coastal fishery management program.

Commercial Fishing

While recreational fishing has had its impact on marine fisheries, the damage from commercial exploitation of our fisheries has been far greater. The commercial mindset to maximize harvest and profit by all means, to oppose all regulations, to insist on license fees that are too low to pay for management programs, and to employ sophisticated fishing techniques and gear resulting in overharvest have all led to severe adverse impacts on our marine fisheries.

This adverse impact is not entirely the fault of the commercial fisherman, who is merely trying to make a meager living from the rivers, sounds, estuaries, and ocean. It is the fault of the economically driven industry that profits from the hard and dangerous work of the commercial fisherman. This industry accepts no position other than its own, insisting that our marine fisheries belong to those who exploit them for short term profit without regard for the future.
For years, the commercial fishing industry has had its way with policy making boards, securing lax rules governing seasons and harvest. The recreational fisherman sat quietly by as this blatant mismanagement dragged our marine fisheries into a state of depletion. Even today, in the face of overwhelming evidence of depletion, the commercial fishing industry opposes every conservation proposal advanced by scientists and concerned fishermen. We must develop balanced management that conserves our marine fisheries and enhances our marine habitats. The following steps will begin that process.
Restrictions necessary to bring commercial fishing into balance with the harvest capacity of the resource can be divided into three categories:

1. Gear restrictions.
Very few meaningful restrictive rules on the amount or type of gear are currently in place in North Carolina waters to address habitat destruction and bycatch of non-targeted fish and aquatic life. At a minimum the use of the following gear should be changed as described:
a. Otter trawls.
These destructive devices are dragged in the shallow waters of North Carolina sounds and estuaries, which serve as nursery areas for a variety of juvenile finfish and other aquatic life, to catch mainly shrimp and crabs. In the process of harvesting targeted species, this gear kills many times more non-targeted fish (by weight). Hundreds of millions of fingerling sized fish are wiped out, and most of the dead are species currently listed as Page 4 of 4
overfished or depleted. In addition, otter trawls cause tremendous destruction to the bottom as the trawls are dragged along behind the boat. Obliteration of bottom structure and silt from dredging create formidable obstacles to restoration of productive oyster beds and submerged aquatic vegetation. The use of otter trawls in North Carolina waters should be stopped immediately.

b. Strike nets.
These nets are deployed around schools of fish usually in restricted, in-shore areas where they have gathered for refuge. After the strike net is deployed, the fish are driven into the net by commotion from the netter. Strike nets are particularly damaging when set in inshore areas in late fall and winter when large brood fish move into these waters to spend the cold months. Activity of fish is limited when the water is cold, so the fish are especially vulnerable to strike nets at this crucial time of their life cycle. Because of this, the use of strike nets should no longer be permitted in primary or secondary nursery areas between November 1 and April 1.
2. Bycatch reduction.
Rules must be put into effect to restrict commercial fishing operations so that bycatch mortality is eliminated or reduced to levels that do not affect the abundance or life cycle of the non-targeted fish or other aquatic life. It is no longer acceptable to kill 5 to 10 pounds of non-targeted marine life to catch a pound of shrimp. Federal mandates to eliminate interactions between commercial fishing gear and endangered species such as the Atlantic sturgeon and sea turtles will require changes to reduce interactions or the fishing activity will be closed. Bycatch should be reduced through prohibition or modification of gear, or through seasonal and area restrictions or closures.
3. Total allowable catch (TAC).
TACs are scientifically determined quotas that are set to limit the harvest of a species to levels that are compatible with sustainability. All commercial species should have a TAC established and enforced. TACs should be set in an equitable manner consistent with historical participation or some fair system of lottery. TACs should be set by season or by area when required to allow critical protection during some vulnerable stage of a species life cycle. TACs should also include size limits when appropriate and may be imposed for daily or longer intervals to regulate the rate of harvest.
The sea food industry must adapt and change its approach to harvest. The primary goal of management and regulation must be the sustainability of our marine resources.

Monday, August 20, 2012

NC Fisheries Agencis Accepting Public Comments on Reorganization

Section 2. of Chapter 190 of the 2012 NC Session Laws (SB 821) requires the Director of the Wildlife Resources Commission, the Director of the Division of Marine Fisheries, and the Commissioner of Agriculture to study the organization and function of the fisheries management programs in NC and to report their findings and recommendations for improvement to the NC General Assembly in October of 2012.

 As a first step in this process, the agencies have set up several public meetings to receive public comment on the subject of reorganization of the fisheries agencies in NC. The times and places with maps are given below:

Public Meetings to receive public comments on reorganization of the fisheries agencies in NC 6 p.m., Aug. 22 and 9 a.m., Aug. 23 N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission Meeting Brownstone Hilton DoubleTree Hotel 1707 Hillsborough St., Raleigh (Map) 5 p.m., Aug. 29 N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission Committee Meetings 1751 Varsity Drive N.C. State University Centennial Campus, Raleigh (Map) 6 p.m., Sept. 5 Craven County Cooperative Extension Office 300 Industrial Drive, New Bern (Map) 6 p.m., Sept 6 Dare County Administration Building Commissioners Meeting Room 954 Marshall C. Collins Drive, Manteo (Map) All comments offered on this issue will be presented for joint consideration by all three agencies.

Attend one of these meetings if you can and send the notice to all your fishing friends so they can attend too. Also, a website has been set up to receive public comments:

Visit this site and send your comments directly to the three agencies for consideration. CFRG can identify no role for the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to play in the management or administration of fisheries resources. Their charge is to manage farm commodities and assist farmers, of which they do a very good job. No efficiency or economy could be gained by involving NCDA&CS in any of the fishery programs, except aquaculture, which they already handle.

In fact, delegating reporting harvest statistics and monitoring fishery catches through NCDA&CS would add an element of uncertainty and additional bureaucracy to the current process, which is working quite well. There are elements of redundancy and overlap of responsibilities between WRC and DMF that, if eliminated, would improve delivery of services, law enforcement, and management of fisheries resources and would save significant overlapping funding requirements through consolidation of those functions.

The present evaluation should focus on items that would improve efficiency and cut redundancy and include recommendations for change to eliminate overlapping activities. Finally, the WRC has a total of 19 members and the Marine Fisheries Commission has 9 members. As close as the missions of these two agencies are, it seems plausible that policy making and regulatory duties of the two Commissions could be consolidated and reduced in a way that would preserve the unique focus on marine and inland fisheries and save a lot of unnecessary administrative costs in the process. If you agree, pass these ideas for savings and efficiency along to the agencies for their consideration in their deliberations. Thank you, NC Coastal Reform Group

Tuesday, August 7, 2012


Actions of the General Assembly in the Short Session, 2012 related to marine fisheries

The Marine Fisheries Study Committee was established after the 2011 General Assembly failed to act on the game fish bill HB 353.  That bill would have made striped bass, speckled trout, and red drum game fish that could not be taken except by hook and line and could not be sold.  Below is the charge given to the Marine Fisheries Study Committee.  The Committee met four times between January and April without significant progress and very little discussion on any of the pressing issues given to it for study. 

Marine Fisheries Study Committee – Study issues related to marine fisheries.  Specifically, the Committee may study the following:

1.      The potential impact to both the State’s fisheries resources and the State’s economy related to the designation of Red Drum, Spotted Sea Trout, and Striped Bass as coastal game fish.

2.      Changes to the appointment process and qualification for membership on the NC Marine Fisheries Commission.

3.      Creation of a hook and line commercial fishery.

4.      Elimination of the trawl boat fishery in NC.

5.      Entering into cooperative agreements with other jurisdictions with regard to the conservation of marine and estuarine resources; and regulating placement of nets and other sport or commercial gear in coastal fishing waters with regard to navigational and recreational safety as well as from a conservation standpoint.

6.      Entering into agreements regarding the delegation of law enforcement powers from the National Marine Fisheries Service over matters within the jurisdiction of the Service.

7.      Potential modification of the Fisheries Reform Act of 1997.

8.      Whether Marine Fisheries should be a division of the Coastal Resources Commission o the Wildlife Resources Commission.\

9.      Other findings that promote the allocation of the State’s resources to the optimum use.

Chairs: McCormick (Brown)

Members: Ingle, Samuelson, McComas, Spear, Holloway, McElraft, Murray (Preston, White, Goolsby, Rabon, Tucker, East, Jackson.)

Their final report resulted in introduction and final passage of SB 821 in the Short Session of 2012.  SB 821 is summarized below.  The most positive provision to come out of this bill is elimination of the menhaden fisheries in NC waters and a super majority requirement for passage of any rule by the Marine Fisheries Commission related to overfishing or recovery of overfished stocks over the recommendation of the staff of the Division of Marine Fisheries.

  • Senate Bill 821.  An act to consolidate several issues raised in the Marine Fisheries Study Committee.  The several issues are addressed below:
    • Directs the agency heads of Agriculture, Marine Fisheries, and Wildlife to study the organizational structure and function of the various fisheries management programs of NC and to report their findings and recommendations for change to the General Assembly in October, 2012.
    • Directs the agency heads of Transportation, Wildlife, and Marine Fisheries to study all available sources of funds to create a new fund to be used for boat navigation projects including channel dredging.  Specifically mentioned are fishing license fees, gasoline taxes, and boat registration fees.
    • Prohibits fishing for menhaden using a mother ship and purse seine runner boats in NC waters after January 1, 2013.
    • Requires a supermajority vote of the Marine Fisheries Commission to override a staff recommendation related to eliminating overfishing or restoration of overfished stocks.
    • Consolidated several of the marine fisheries advisory committees for efficiency.
Another bill coming out of the Marine Fisheries Study Committee that never got heard was SB 850, which would have recreated the Joint Legislative Commission on Fish and Wildlife.  This is a very bad idea and we were able to kill the bill by pointing out some of the problems to sponsors. 

·         Senate Bill 850.  An act to create an oversight committee of 16 legislators to oversee fish and wildlife management programs.  This was a very bad idea, which never got any legs due to conversations with Senate leaders.  Once the problems were explained to sponsors, they decided not to move this bill.  Fish and wildlife management programs do not need legislative oversight, in fact, a system like that would have serious negative effects.  Another good move for sportsmen. 

CFRG is gearing up for another full-fledged effort to make meaningful changes to the management of our marine fisheries.  Announcement will be forthcoming shortly.  The Marine Fisheries Commission meets in Raleigh on August 22-24, 2012.  We will be there representing the interests of sound management and resource protection.  Stay tuned!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Report of the Marine Fisheries Study Committee - Squandered Opportunity

This special study committee was established after the 2011 Session failed to take up the issue of game fish status for red drum, speckled sea trout, and striped bass and was to examine and make recommendations for improvements in management of marine fisheries for consideration during the short spring session of the General Assembly.  A whole list of subjects was laid out for their review, including game fish, joint law enforcement authority, merger of the fisheries agencies, and other issues related to management of marine fisheries.  The Study Committee met four times since January. 

A great opportunity to reform and improve protection and management of our marine fisheries was squandered by failure of the Study Committee to seriously examine or analyze the current situation relative to management of marine fisheries or ways to improve it.  Pertinent information about the current declining status of marine fisheries stocks and the inherent value of marine fisheries to the state and local economies as compared to its meager value as a commodity were not presented and not discussed.  Political paralysis set in early in the process resulting in stagnation of any meaningful discussion or action. 
The final report is an orchestrated, last minute surprise that contains not one valuable recommendation to improve North Carolinas coastal fisheries.  Game fish was never mentioned nor was joint law enforcement authority for Marine Patrol Officers; commercial interests did not want these.  Merger of the fisheries agencies became a new study kicked down the road until October 1, 2012; now the study on merger will include the Department of Agriculture; commercial seafood interests would prefer to be considered as a commodity not subject to strict control as a natural resource.  

Additionally, and perhaps the worst idea to emerge in many years, is a recommendation to establish a sixteen member legislative oversight commission to oversee every detail of, not only marine fisheries issues, but also all wildlife resources issues as well.  If this oversight commission is enacted, it will politicize fish and wildlife programs and set back professional, science-based management to the dark ages.
So, not much positive to report from the touted Marine Fisheries Study Committee.  The next step along this tortuous road to improve management of our marine fisheries will be the actions to come from the short session.  The game fish bill, H353, is still alive in the House and can be taken up.  Also, the recommendation of the Marine Fisheries Study Committee may be acted upon.  The oversight commission for fish and wildlife deserves swift and certain action to see that it never sees the light of day.  We will watch carefully for positive signs of support for improvements in the way we protect and manage our marine fisheries in the short session.  We will give you our analysis in early July.