01 Sep N.C. Wildlife Federation slams MFC for failing to act
Opinion By Dick Hamilton
NC Camo Coordinator
In the face of staggering data documenting the decline in spot, grey trout, and croaker, the Marine Fisheries Commission (MFC) in late August voted against considering rule making proposals submitted by N.C. Wildlife Federation (NCWF) to curb the bycatch of tens of millions of juvenile fish by shrimp trawling in N.C.’s estuarine waters and protect habitat areas essential to valuable fish species.
Without better management practices in place for our sounds and estuarine ecosystems, commercial shrimp trawling results in the catch of unsustainably high levels of non-target (bycatch) species. Trawling surveys have shown for every pound of shrimp caught in North Carolina waters, about four pounds of finfish and other organisms are caught and killed in shrimp trawls and discarded as bycatch.
Tens of millions of fish fall victim to shrimp trawls each year. North Carolina’s sounds and estuaries are highly productive nursery areas that provide vital habitat to juvenile fish before these fish become mature and have an opportunity to spawn and reproduce. Shrimp trawling effort is highest in North Carolina’s sensitive sounds; trawling destroys fragile habitat areas and devastates substantial quantities of juvenile fish. North Carolina is the only state on the east coast that allows trawling in these sensitive, highly-productive, in-shore habitat areas. Over the last several decades, the public trust has been wholly violated because the state has consistently failed to enact precautionary, meaningful rules that would lead to recovery of NC’s valuable marine fisheries resource.
The responsibility of managing these valuable fisheries resources and ensuring a viable coastal economy rest squarely with the Governor and Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), which oversees the Division of Marine Fisheries.
Conservationists and anglers were hopeful for progress as Gov. Roy Cooper ran on a conservation-focused fisheries management platform during his campaign https://www.roycooper.com/
The annual fishing mortality on these juvenile fish from shrimp trawling bycatch is unsustainable and has led to major declines in the health of these fish populations over the past twenty years. The primary species taken as bycatch in the shrimp trawl fishery—including spot, croaker, grey trout and summer and southern flounder—have declined precipitously since the Fisheries Reform Act of 1997 was implemented. Landings of the fish subject to this bycatch mortality have decreased over the past two decades from 38.5 million pounds to 4.9 million pounds, a reduction of 87.3 percent. These species are not only economically valuable, they also serve an important role in ecosystem functioning.
NCWF submitted a broader rule making proposal two years ago, which the MFC, then under the McCrory administration appointments, adopted. DMF prepared a fiscal note greatly exaggerating the cost of implementing the broader conservation measures, which subsequently halted further consideration of the proposal. Here is the NCWF rebuttal to DMF’s opposition to the first Petition: https://ncwf.org/nc-division-
Now, this new proposal, which is narrower in scope has been voted down by the current administration’s MFC. DEQ and Division of Marine Fisheries administrators opposed considering the revised conservation proposal that was narrowed in scope to reduce the anticipated cost. The entire new Petition for Rule may be read here: https://ncwf.org/wp-content/
DEQ and DMF similarly opposed the Let them Spawn bill (H483) in the legislature, which passed the House and is now in the Senate. Their opposition to this bill has left conservationists bewildered with regards to the basis for opposition to resource conservation measures.
The failure of MFC to act on these conservation proposals is extremely disappointing and unfortunate for the resource; but, NCWF will not halt its efforts for serious reform on this conservation priority. Let them Spawn…Before they’re Gone!