27 Sep Recreational Quota Reductions For Spanish Mackerel Likely After Bycatch Complaints In Commercial Sector
*This is a developing story that we are continuing to monitor as more information becomes available. Stay tuned for updates on the current and future status of this important fishery in the coming days*
The following letter was sent by CCA NC Executive Director, David Sneed, to Secretary Regan of the NCDEQ in response to his unilateral decision to allow for the commercial season for Spanish Mackerel to be reopened despite having already reached quota. See the image included above to read the content of a letter sent by the Secretary to the Executive Director of the NC Fisheries Association where he discusses the decision.
September 26, 2019
VIA ELECTRONIC MAIL
Secretary Michael Regan
North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality
217 West Jones Street
Raleigh, NC 27699
The Coastal Conservation Association North Carolina (CCA NC) finds your action compelling the Division of Marine Fisheries Director to reopen the commercial harvest of Spanish mackerel after the SAFMC quota has been met deeply troubling on a number of fronts. You cite a motion by the SAFMC last week to revise Spanish mackerel accountability measures as a justification when this action by the SAFMC simply starts the framework process which even when fast-tracked will not result in any rule changes for at least a year. We find it inexplicable that this move will not take the State out of compliance with the ASMFC Spanish Mackerel FMP and respectfully request an opinion letter from DEQ counsel explaining how this action is legal under the terms of the ASMFC compact. Additionally, the North Carolina Interjurisdictional FMP requires us to comply with federal plans unless the Marine Fisheries Commission decides different. It is my understanding that the MFC was not even consulted on this issue.
Given the importance of Spanish mackerel to the recreational sector, a soft allocation shift without substantive due process sets a troubling precedent, one that will not resonate well with the recreational community particularly coming on the heels of the flounder closure. This is a blatant attempt to reallocate the resource without following the FMP process. There should be no surprise that the commercial harvest, operating as an open access fishery with large daily trip limits, would regularly hit and exceed their ASMFC quota. Another Tragedy of the Commons. Conversely, the recreational fishery does not exist simply for harvest, instead a healthy fishery thrives when an abundance of fish are in the waters to create the opportunity for increased interactions. The Secretary is under no obligation to “expend” the unused recreational quota and could choose instead to leave those fish in the water to serve as a conservation buffer and to help maintain a healthy stock.
Finally, this once again documents the non-selective nature of gill nets and its associated bycatch. This issue is specific to North Carolina, since none of the other states have gill nets in their state waters and do not have this problem. After the Spanish mackerel commercial closure, commercial spot and croaker gill net fishermen complained that they are catching thousands of pounds of Spanish mackerel as bycatch and having to discard them dead (What happened to the commercial doctrine that gill nets are “specific”?). With flounder harvest closed because of overfishing, gill net fishermen are now targeting spot and croaker, two species that do not have a State FMP and have seen their commercial harvest decreased by 84% and 91% respectively since 1997. Southern flounder have been overfished, spot and croaker are in decline due in large part to the magnitude of bycatch in the South Atlantic shrimp trawls (ASMFC, Atlantic Croaker, Stock Status), and now the gill nets will be targeting Spanish mackerel, the commercial landing price for which already exceeds that of spot and croaker. The reopening of the Spanish mackerel commercial harvest once again perpetuates North Carolina’s history of supporting the commercial mandate of achieving maximum harvest as opposed to the mission to protect our coastal fishery resources for both commercial and recreational interests.
For a Department that has been very vocal about following the “process” when it came to protecting estuarine striped bass and Southern flounder, the appearance of a double standard with this arbitrary action cannot be ignored. We look forward to your response.
David A. Sneed
David A. Sneed, Executive Director
Copy: Governor Roy Cooper
John Nicholson, Chief Deputy Secretary NC DEQ
Rob Bizzell, Chairman NC MFC
Steve Murphey, Director NC DMF