February 25, 2008

A lower king mackerel quota would hurt Dare commercial fishermen 

By SUSAN WEST



Gregg Waugh, South Atlantic Fishery Management Council deputy executive director, told fishermen during a meeting in New Bern that the council expects new, lower harvest limits for king mackerel.

“We’re not saying there are problems with king mackerel, but there’s still a limit on what it can produce without overfishing,” Waugh said during the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (SAFMC) scoping meeting on Feb. 7.

He said the council’s Science and Statistical Committee could lower the current 10 million pound limit to around 7 million pounds at their December meeting.

Under a 7.1 million pound total allowable catch, the commercial quota for the South Atlantic would fall to 2.6 million pounds.

Recent landing trends indicate that the lower quota could be reached as early as the end of October. Harvest would then be prohibited until the start of the new fishing season in March.

And, that would spell big trouble for North Carolina, where landings from November through the winter account for 60 percent of the king mackerel catch in the state.

The SAFMC has identified three new allocation methods that might reduce that disproportionate impact on North Carolina – state-by-state quotas, semi-annual quotas, or regional quotas.

Many fishermen at the New Bern meeting said state-by-state quotas would work best, a position supported by the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries.

SAFMC deputy executive director Waugh said some members of the council are interested in that option.

He cautioned, however, that the South Atlantic council hasn’t assigned separate quotas to each of the four states under its jurisdiction for other fisheries.

“And, NMFS (National Marine Fisheries Service) has expressed concern that there would be four quotas to be tracked,” he said.

But Louis Daniel, director of the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries, said quota monitoring shouldn’t be a huge issue.

“I don’t understand why the South Atlantic is so reluctant to use state-by-state quotas when the Mid-Atlantic (council) uses them all the time,” Daniel said in a telephone interview.

He noted that states from North Carolina all the way north to Maine track quotas in the Mid-Atlantic summer flounder fishery, while only four South Atlantic states would have to monitor the mackerel quota.

At the meeting in New Bern, Buxton commercial fisherman Paul Dunn said an early closure to the king mackerel fishery would not be an issue if the South Atlantic council prohibited the sale of mackerel caught by recreational fishermen.

Fish that are sold are counted towards filling commercial quotas.   
 
“The council is plugging that gap for snapper-grouper right now,’ said Waugh.

Commercial fisherman Kelly Schoolcraft of Frisco questioned how the data used in the mackerel stock assessment is collected.  He said he never saw scientists measuring king mackerel on his boat or at fish houses.

“Dare County is one of the highest producers of king mackerel, so it seems it would be important to sample fish from Hatteras and Wanchese,” said Schoolcraft.

The state does sample fish during recreational fishing tournaments, but does not have a king mackerel sampling program because the federal council manages the species, according to DMF director Daniel.

“There are federal port agents, but I don’t know how often or whether they sample in Hatteras,” Daniel said.

Waugh said sampling is supposed to be representative of all areas, but that federal funds were becoming more and more limited.

Depending on when a new mackerel stock assessment is completed, the SAFMC could have new regulations in place by January, 2010.




   

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