Photo by P. Vankevich
A shrimp trawler in the Pamlico Sound. Photo: P. Vankevich

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By Peter Vankevich

The North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries Commission (DMF) voted in Wilmington yesterday (Feb. 16) to approve a petition by the N.C. Wildlife Federation that would drastically restrict shrimp trawling in North Carolina coastal waters. The vote was five to three with one abstention.

This vote won’t affect shrimp fishermen immediately, but if this rule–or parts of it–goes into effect, several hurdles will be necessary to clear, including legal compliance issues and an economic impact study, which could take up to two years before any implementation.

The restrictions in the petition, which include limiting shrimping to three days per week, designating all coastal fishing waters not otherwise designated as nursery areas (including the Atlantic Ocean out to three miles from shore) as special secondary nursery areas;  and defining the type of shrimping gear and how it may be used, were widely opposed by the commercial fishing industry, fish houses, restaurants and the Hyde County commissioners who in their January monthly meeting had unanimously approved a resolution opposing it.  An extended public comment period preceded the DMF’s vote.

Hyde County’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.

Hyde County manager, Bill Rich. Photo: P. Vankevich
Hyde County Manager Bill Rich. Photo: P. Vankevich

Hyde County manager Bill Rich, who attended the two-day meeting, voiced his disappointment.

“I’m still in shock about it,” he said. “I can’t believe that they voted on it after what I heard here and earlier in New Bern.  There was a wonderful presentation on why the petition was flawed and it was completely ignored. I knew there were three votes, but there were two commissioners that didn’t say one word during the two days and they voted for the petition.”

Even with yesterday’s vote, Rich was skeptical that it would be implemented.

“I don’t believe the petition will be enacted in its present form, but there may be new rules and regulations that will come out of it,” he said.

Ocracoke’s county commissioner, Tom Pahl, echoed Rich’s sentiment.

“It’s terrible; extremely disappointing,” he said. “I attended the public hearing (Jan. 17) in New Bern and all five advisories committees were against it, and I think they were irresponsible in not taking their advice.”

In Pahl’s testimony last month, he noted:

Tom Pahl
Tom Pahl. Photo: C. Leinbach

“Bycatch reduction is the issue here, and it is a legitimate concern,” he said. “Again, no one thinks this is a bad idea, but don’t destroy a whole division of the North Carolina commercial fishing business when there are viable options yet to be implemented.”

The DMF is responsible for the stewardship of the state’s marine and estuarine resources. Its jurisdiction encompasses all coastal waters and extends to three miles offshore. Agency policies are established by the nine-member Marine Fisheries Commission and the Secretary of the Department of Environmental Quality. North Carolina is a member of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council and the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council.

Voting for the petition were Mark Gorges, Brad Koury, Chuck Laughridge, Rick Smith, Mike Wicke. Opposing it were Sammy Corbett, chairman, Janet Rose and Alison Willis. Joe Shute abstained.

The petition, filed by the N.C. Wildlife Federation, was supported by N.C. Coastal Conservation Association, which describes itself as a community of recreational anglers working to protect our marine resources for future generations to experience and enjoy.  

The petition proposes expanding special secondary nurseries that are essential to juvenile development for numerous recreational and commercially valuable species in North Carolina waters, especially citing weakfish, spot and Atlantic croaker. According to the petition, it is estimated that for every pound of shrimp harvested in North Carolina waters more than four pounds of non-target catch, including juvenile fin fish, are discarded.

Sadness was part of this meeting. Jimmy Nobles, who owned a seafood market in Greenville, collapsed soon after giving an impassioned speech against the petition and later died of a heart attack.

Megan Spencer
Megan Spencer aboard the trawler Brooke N Kara. Photo: Bruce Hodges.

Megan Spencer, of Ocracoke and who hails from generations of Hyde County watermen, attended the meeting and has been an activist in opposing the restrictions, including creating an online petition on that drew more than 7,500 supporters.

“I found it disheartening,” she said. “There was not one shred of economic evidence as what the damage this petition would do.”

N.C. Catch, a group that focuses on educating consumers on the importance of buying local seafood and which supports commercial fishing, said this petition process will be a long haul.

“This is a marathon, not a sprint, and everyone will need to remain engaged on this issue for the duration of the rulemaking process,” it posted on its Facebook page.

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  1. The picture with Ms. Spencer speaks volumes. Do you think all those gulls are eating shrimp sweep everboard? Not hardly. For the uninformed the gulls are dining on thousands of dead juvenile “by catch” finfish. No one can deny N.C. has a problem!

  2. They are trying to destroy the commercial fishing industry anyway they can it’s getting ridiculous they are trying to take away some of our lively hoods this is the only income that some of us have and depend on ever year to survive they won’t be happy until they put us all out of business. This is my only means of an income and I depend on it every year myself. But they don’t seem to care about you or me all they care about is them selfs and the recreational people who don’t care if we can feed our family’s or not no skin off there backs because they don’t care weather or not you can feed your family or not.

  3. This is the biggest slap in the face to commercial fishermen I have ever seen. The Federation and the CCA only care about sport fishermen. When they start going to restraunts eating shrimp grown in raw sewage in Asia they will be satisfied. They have no conscience making the rest of our good citizens eat raw sewage raised shrimp so a few can sport fish.

  4. Man u understand the fact bout making sure theres life for the future i,agree with that but shutting down all local waters isn’t gonen be the answer to the problem.people beinning put out of business doing what they have done for years an its all they know now this they have put so many regulations on commercial fishings that its all they can do now to stay ahead an provide for there familys an yet again making it harder an harder.But the funny thing is everyone of you that is sittn up here yelling pass it pass it loves to set down an eat seafood but yet yelling put them out of business..They wont ever close it down but they will make it so hard an regulated that they will just quite doing it an that what they want,everyone tryn to pass this partition dont no shit bout the water hell prolly dont really no shit but what they hear an see,why dont each one of ypu set down an thank about it like this what bout if someone was tryn to put u out of your job you are doing an been to school 5 or 6 years to get where u are an been doing it for 25 years an its all you know an take ur job from u an leave you with out work to support your family an no one else hire you yea thats it let it sink in.For the best of it all pook what the bastards done to everyone down Florida them boys been mullet fishing there hole life them retards went down there start pushing regulations an shit an made it where they cant even net fish no more over what cause if u think stopping them was gonen help life in the rivers an oceans spawn more an be a bunch more u thought wrong ur high doller education made yall pook stupied as shit.There are 25 or 30 sports fisherman to every one commerical fisherman they set limits on boats an there are more fisher caughted an more killed every year by sportsfisherman than there ever will be by commerical fisherman the best thing to do is put someone in charge of all that shit. Smartner than a dam book reader hands on then they will see it all first hand an just for yall FYI yall dont own the oceans creeks rivers or bays nor do yall own the fish how it ever got took over is the real question cause if i remember it right GOD CAUGHT FISH with a net in the bible right but none of yall remember what that is anymore do you…..Funny funny funny

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