Hyde County news

Proposed new trawling regs could limit shrimp availability and harm Hyde economy

Shrimp boats in early December are still delivering their bounty to the Ocracoke Seafood Co. Photo: C. Leinbach

Shrimp trawlers deliver their bounty in early December to the Ocracoke Seafood Co. Photo: C. Leinbach

For Ocracoke news, click here

By Peter Vankevich and Connie Leinbach

Hyde County Commissioners at their Jan. 3 meeting unanimously passed a resolution opposing proposed shrimp trawling reduction rules in the Pamlico Sound which would adversely affect the local economy.

The resolution is expected to join several similar resolutions by coastal communities in response to the North Carolina Wildlife Federation (NCWF) who in November filed their petition with the Marine Fisheries Commission to drastically cut back shrimp fishing in the Pamlico Sound.

The following are among the specific points in this suggested new rule, effective Jan. 1, 2018

  • Limiting shrimp trawling to three days a week in the daytime only in special secondary nursery areas
  • Limiting the total trawl head rope to 90 feet (which will limit the size of the net) in all state waters
  • Limiting tow times to 45 minutes in special secondary nursery areas
  • Opening shrimp season once the shrimp count in Pamlico Sound reaches 60 shrimp per pound including heads
  • Implementing an 8-inch size limit for spot and a 10-inch size limit for American croaker
  • Requiring all fishermen to use two Division of Marine Fisheries-certified bycatch reduction devices when trawling in state waters

If implemented, the new rules would have a devastating impact on local watermen and the economy of Hyde County, said Kris Noble, assistant Hyde County manager, who briefed the commissioners on the resolution she drafted in consultation with others in the commercial fishing industry.

The biggest reason to oppose this, she said and is included in the resolution, is that North Carolina and the federal government recently completed a two-year shrimp management plan with public comments that did not recommend a ban on inside shrimp trawling in North Carolina to ensure sustainability of these fishery resources. 

“None of this  is mentioned in the shrimp management plan,” Noble said. She  urged that those opposed to these revisions, attend the public comment period to be held in New Bern on Jan. 17. See details below. 

Hyde’s resolution notes that shrimp trawlers are small, family-owned businesses that sell to seafood dealers, which benefits the local economy—both on the mainland and Ocracoke. The fear is that these changes will force shrimp trawlers out of business.  

To view the Hyde County resolution, click here.

While local retailers are still digesting this new salvo, Pattie Johnson Plyler, retail manager of the Ocracoke Seafood Company, said “it will affect us in a huge way.”

According to these new rules NCWF proposes, one of the intents is to reduce the number of juvenile finfish bycatch in shrimp nets, especially Atlantic croaker, spot and weakfish. The petition noted a major decline in these and other species.

Not everyone agrees on the status of these fish and if shrimp trawling is contributing to the decline.

The Hyde County resolution notes that shrimp trawlers currently use turtle exclusionary devices (TEDs) that also permit a lot of the bycatch to be released.

It further notes that discarded bycatch is consumed by blue crabs, bottlenose dolphin, birds and other species. 

The battle over shrimping is seen by some as just another example of commercial vs. sports fishermen. The Coastal Conservation Association of North Carolina, which is perceived by many as a pro-sports fishing alliance and anti-commercial fishermen, supports the NCWF proposal.

In published reports, Bud Abbott, chairman of the CCA, said these proposed measures are not meant to put fishermen out of business but to restore the fisheries to “where they should be.”

In the last few years, the CCA has proposed game fish bills that would ban commercial fishing of striped bass, red drum and speckled trout. The most recent effort in 2014 was shot down when hundreds of coastal commercial fishermen descended on Raleigh to protest.

“There’s been a long-term agenda to do away with shrimping in North Carolina inside waters and also to do away with gill nets, and it’s our contention that this is part of the agenda to do just that,” Jerry Schill, president of the N.C. Fisheries Association, a lobby group for the commercial fishing industry, had said earlier in published reports.

A public meeting on this proposal is scheduled for 12:30 Tuesday, Jan. 17, in New Bern Convention Center, 203 S. Front St., New Bern, at which the public may attend and make comments.

Written comments will be accepted until 5 p.m. Jan. 20, and should be sent to: NCWF Petition, Marine Fisheries Commission Office, N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries, P. O. box 769, Morehead City, NC 28557 and by email at NCWFPetition@ncdenr.gov

To view the Hyde County resolution, click here and scroll down page 50