May 9, 2008


State officials decide to delay new gear permits for striped bass
 

By SUSAN WEST


State fisheries officials have announced that the commercial gear permit for the ocean striped bass fishery won’t go into effect this year, giving officials time to explore limited entry and other management options for the fishery.

Approved by the General Assembly in 2006, the permit requirement had been scheduled to go into effect in the fall.  Fishermen would have been required to lock into using one gear type, either gill nets, beach seines, or trawls, to catch striped bass for the next three years.

But the North Carolina Marine Fisheries Commission (MFC), acting on the request of the state Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF), agreed to delay the requirement at a meeting in Greenville last month.

“With the permit, we were going down a road that really wasn’t going to improve management of the fishery,” said David Taylor, head of the DMF fishery management plan section.

Taylor said that while the permit would have limited fishermen to one type of gear, there’d be no limit on the total number of permits.

 “So, anyone with a commercial fishing license could get a permit,” he said.

From 2002 through 2006, 1,077 individuals participated in the state’s commercial ocean striped bass fishery.

The fishery operates under a state quota of 480,480 pounds, authorized by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, a regional compact that regulates migrating species.

The fishery has been saddled with catch limits as low as 10 fish per day, with fishing seasons that can last just a few days, with derby-style fishing in rough weather, and with gear-sector quota overages.

Although limited entry systems have received a cold reception from most North Carolina commercial fishermen, close to 60 percent of those with striped bass landings think the fishery might be better under limited entry, according to a DMF survey. 

Limited entry restricts participation in a fishery to fishermen who meet certain criteria, such as minimum landings, landings in specific years, or fishing income requirements.

In 2005, the state considered a draft proposal that would have restricted the fishery to fishermen who had landed at least 1,000 pounds of striped bass in any two of three fishing seasons from 2002 through 2004, or who landed fish in all three years. 

Taylor said a DMF committee would look at limited entry and other management options and make recommendations to the MFC.

Any proposal to limit entry would likely require legislative approval, as the MFC can only limit participation in fisheries that fall under federal fishery management plans that include a harvest quota for the state.

“For the upcoming fishing year though, fishermen won’t see many changes in management, but we will be working on a new beach seine definition,” Taylor said.

Under the permit rule, beach seines are defined as “a swipe net constructed of multi-filament or multi-fiber webbing.”  Many fishermen who use beach seines objected to that definition because they had replaced nylon or multi-filament nets with the lighter and less-expensive monofilament.

Taylor said the new definition would likely specify net and twine size, and include a description of how the net is fished.

He said DMF expects to issue a new definition later this spring, so that fishermen can plan purchases for the winter fishery.

   


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