May 22, 2008

MFC advisory panel weighs in on bloodworms and cinderblocks


An advisory panel to the North Carolina Marine Fisheries Commission voted earlier this month to support a permitting requirement for all types of live bait, other than bloodworms, imported into the state.

Under the permit, suppliers would need to have live bait shipments from other states or other countries tested and certified as disease-free.

“In this day and age, with international overnight shipping, we have to be more vigilant about the spread of disease and parasites,” said Mike Marshall with the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF).

The Northeast Advisory Committee, meeting at Roanoke Island Festival Park, agreed that eels and most other live baits should be tested, but recommended that bloodworms be exempt from the requirement while research into diseases carried by bloodworms is conducted.

Committee members said the short “shelf-life” of bloodworms was a concern.

“The time it would take for testing would kill bloodworms before the suppliers got them to us,” said Frank Folb, owner of a retail tackle and bait shop in Avon.

Bloodworms account for 54 percent of all live bait sales in the state.  Most imported bloodworms come from Maine or Canada.

The advisory committee approved a requirement for bait suppliers to replace the seaweed and sediment used as packing material in out-of-state bloodworm shipments with either sterile or native material.

Marshall said a seaweed called dead-man’s fingers, green crabs, and mud snails were all introduced into California when packing materials for bloodworms from Maine were discarded in California waters.

DMF biologist Katy West briefed the committee Thursday on gill net operators using bottom-disturbing equipment in primary nursery areas, another issue under review by the state Marine Fisheries Commission.

Primary nursery areas (PNAs) are important forage and refuge areas for very young fish.  Bottom-disturbing fishing gear, such as trawls, long haul seines, and the mechanical harvest of shellfish, are prohibited in PNAs, but gill nets, hook-and-line, hand rakes and tongs are allowed.

West said DMF received complaints last November that some gill netters were dragging cinderblocks along the bottom of the Neuse River to make fish move and swim into their nets.

Additional information from marine patrol officers indicated that the practice is most prevalent in the southern region of the coast, where bodies of water are narrow and where 44 percent of the waters are classified as PNAs.

West said fishermen turned to dragging blocks or other weights across the bottom, abandoning the practice of banging on the side of boats or using other loud noises to make fish move when waterfront homeowners began to complain about the noise.

She said the impact on PNA ecology and the impact on juvenile fish is unknown, but that stirring the sediment raises toxins and nutrients from the bottom and reduces oxygen levels.

An advisory committee majority agreed that the DMF director should address the issue by proclamation authority while the Coastal Habitat Protection Plan is updated.

The state Marine Fisheries Commission will take up the gill net issue and the live bait permit requirement later this year.


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