June 5, 2008


North Carolina considering limited entry for striped bass

By SUSAN WEST



In 1998, Virginia created an individual fishing quota (IFQ) system for its striped bass, or rockfish, commercial fishery.  

The harvest quota was divided into shares that were allocated to fishermen by the state in proportion to their landings in previous years.  Shares can be bought, leased or sold, shifting allocation decisions from government control to the marketplace over time.  

Virginia has one IFQ system for its ocean fishery and another for the fishery in the Chesapeake Bay.  The total quota for the ocean fishery is 185,000 pounds.

John Bull, spokesman for the Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC), said the number of fishermen participating in the ocean fishery has remained stable at 37 individuals.

VMRC tracks quota transfers, in part because no individual can own more than 11 percent of the total quota for the ocean fishery, but Bull said the agency does not track the prices of quota shares.

He also said the agency does not know whether fishermen have received higher prices for their fish under the IFQ system.

North Carolina fisheries officials and many commercial fishermen agree that management of ocean fishery in this state is ripe for change.

The fishery has been saddled with catch limits as low as 10 fish per day, seasons that last only two or three days, and “derby-style” fishing in rough weather.

In some years, commercial catches have exceeded the 480,480 pound quota, resulting in closures of the fishery the next winter.

Whether an IFQ, or limited access privilege program, is the way to go remains open to debate.

After listening to a description of the rockfish program in Virginia and other limited access programs at a meeting of the state fisheries commission’s Northeast Regional Advisory Committee last month, committee co-chairman Fred Waterfield expressed strong reservations about closing access to licensed commercial fishermen.  

 “And, how about the boy that hasn’t started fishing yet?  There needs to be a way for him to get into this fishery without the additional expense of having to buy or lease quota shares,” the Knotts Island fisherman said.
 
But, commercial fisherman Kelly Schoolcraft said he doesn’t see a way around limiting access.

 “I don’t like the idea of putting people out but this seems like the only way to address the quota overages and other problems that occur in this fishery,” he said.

The number of fishermen participating in the fishery varies from year to year.  In 2005, 729 fishermen had striped bass landings, but participation fell to 198 the following year because of gear-sector closures.

Scott Crosson, socioeconomics program manager at the NC Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) and a member of an internal DMF subcommittee working on management options for the fishery, said the initial allocation of quota shares is always the most controversial aspect of designing a limited access program.

“We may recommend a minimum landing of striped bass requirement, but that’s still very much up in the air,” he said.

DMF has asked for an opinion from the state Attorney General’s office on whether the North Carolina Marine Fisheries Commission (MFC) can implement a limited access program for the fishery without legislative approval.  

By law, MFC can limit participation only in fisheries that fall under a federal management plan that assigns a harvest quota to the state.  Federal fisheries councils that work under the National Marine Fisheries Service have assigned North Carolina quotas for summer flounder, black sea bass, and bluefish.

But the striped bass quota comes from the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, a deliberative body of coastal states that coordinates management of nearshore resources, a situation that makes the authority of the MFC less clear-cut.

In April, the MFC, at the request of DMF, delayed implementation of a gear permit requirement for the fishery that had been scheduled to go into effect this fall.

“DMF was getting calls from people in places like New Hanover and Brunswick counties about the gear permit, and we realized participation in the fishery could expand under the permit,” explained Sara Winslow, DMF northern district supervisor.

Crosson said DMF should have a recommendation to present to the MFC at its September meeting in Pine Knoll Shores.

   


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