06 Mar DMF will review small mesh gill net regulations
The Division of Marine Fisheries announced during the Marine Fisheries Commission meeting recently, that the Secretary of the Department of Environmental Quality had directed the DMF to conduct a thorough review of the regulations governing the use of small mesh gill nets in North Carolina fisheries. See CCA NC’s position below.
After decades of actions by numerous commissions, the department, the division and federal agencies, the regulations have become complex, difficult for stakeholders to understand and create an enforcement challenge.
A review to simplify the regulations with a goal to reduce bycatch and sustain our stocks is important to commercial and recreational fishermen. The Division of Marine Fisheries will:
- Begin a review of existing MFC small mesh (less than 4 inches) gill net rules and proclamations to identify potential amendments with respect to minimum mesh size, total yardage and attendance requirements; and
- Issue a proclamation this spring to limit yardage for small mesh nets with reasonable upper limits based on analysis of average, minimum and maximum yardages currently used and address attendance requirements in certain ‘hot spot’ areas.
- Present rule change options to the MFC later this year.
During the MFC meeting, CCA NC made public comment encouraging the MFC to extend the gill net free zones established upstream in the Pamlico and Neuse Rivers as a proactive management measure.
The gill net free zones established upstream in the Pamlico and Neuse have saved, for the most part, the two good year classes of stripers that are present in these systems. From what we are seeing, these fish have remained in the systems and are currently in place ready to move up the rivers this spring to spawn.
Mild winters and ideal environmental conditions for successful spawns have resulted in a trifecta boom in three species: speckled trout, red drum and striped bass. The upstream net free zones are not responsible for this boom, but these large protected areas resulting from the net restrictions have provided a sanctuary, making the fish more accessible for an economically booming recreational fishery and easier for enforcement to protect.
The department needs to recognize the extraordinary gift we have been given by Mother Nature and do everything in its power to protect these abundant stocks for future generations. The public trust interest in these natural resources should be protected for the majority and not allowed to be exploited by the few.
The reason for the gill net free zones was to protect several good year classes of striped bass. They are still out there. The need to protect these fish is just as great as it was when the closures were first established. If anything, the need to maintain the gill net free zones or sanctuaries is greater than before and consideration should be given to expanding this “gill net free sanctuary” to the mouths of the Pamlico, Neuse and Bay rivers or simply use the current “tie-down” lines.
Consideration should also be given to creating a Gill Net Free Zone on the New River. This river was experiencing the same extraordinary speckled trout fishing as the rest of the state until the net boats arrived and now that system has been almost completely wiped out. Guides that normally fish those waters are now taking their clients to fish the gill net free zone above the ferry line on the Neuse River.
If the DEQ goal is truly to protect the resource, we ask Secretary Regan to support immediate action by the director of DMF to establish a permanent, year-round, Gill Net Free Sanctuary on all upstream waters of the Bay, Neuse and Pamlico Rivers above the current “tie down lines”, and all waters inland of the main shoreline of the Bay, Neuse and Pamlico Rivers (all the creeks).
This would provide a simple solution to the user conflicts currently being experienced in the small mesh gill net fishery and provide a sanctuary for what should be a robust inshore fishery in North Carolina. Filling the Rule Book with more regulations on net lengths and attendance requirements will not achieve these same goals.