June 26, 2008

County watermen’s commission lays out an agenda


The Dare County Commission for Working Watermen laid out an ambitious task-sheet when the group met June 17.

Each waterman on the commission contributed a “wish list” of ways to protect and develop the fishing industry in the county.

“Step one should be a meeting with elected officials to ask them if they want a commercial fishing industry in North Carolina,” said Jamie Reibel, commission vice-chairman.

“If they aren’t with us, then we won’t be able to do anything,” he said.

Dewey Hemilright said support could be gauged by asking for state legislation that would bar the concurrent appointment of an individual to both state and federal fisheries councils.  

The current chairman of the North Carolina Marine Fisheries Commission, Mac Currin, also serves in an at-large seat on the federal South Atlantic Fishery Management Council.

Hemilright said that the state’s official opposition to proposed federal snapper-grouper rules was weakened when Currin supported the rules in his role on the South Atlantic Council.

Kelly Schoolcraft spoke about how snapper-grouper management underscores the flaws in fisheries data collection systems.

“We lost our commercial snowy grouper fishery based on information collected from headboat surveys in other states,” he said.

Schoolcraft said the validity of management plans is undercut when the data isn’t representative of the total fishery.

“The Council and NMFS (National Marine Fisheries Service) know that’s an issue, and that’s why they’re training a port agent now to measure and sample fish landed in Dare County,” he said.

Schoolcraft recommended that the commission ask the state to look into the issue.

“I think we have an opportunity to recapture some of our snapper-grouper fishery,” he said.

Schoolcraft also recommended that the commission look into ways to develop collaborative data collection programs with universities.

“We need the best credible science, not just the best available, to be used in management plans,” he added.

Phil Ray Haywood agreed that inaccurate data mars fisheries management.

He also would like changes in the management of the commercial red drum fishery.  In order to land up to seven drum, commercial fishermen have been required to land more pounds of other species than the weight of the drum.

“What sense does it make that I am required to go out and kill nanny shad or some other fish in order to keep seven drum?” he asked.

He also supported Hemilright’s recommendation that the group work with the state to change the rules for the striped bass fishery in the sounds.

“With the five fish limit in place, we haven’t come close to catching the allowable quota for years now,” Haywood said.

The watermen also discussed a request for a 1.1 million-pound spiny dogfish quota for North Carolina, water quality issues, buoy identification educational efforts, repeal of the coastal recreational fishing license, and local seafood marketing initiatives.

“We are now seeing with the oil situation and with imports, that when we can’t feed ourselves, we lose our freedom,” said Dare County Commissioner Mike Johnson, chairman of the watermen’s panel.

The commission did not take formal action on any issues, but agreed to invite state Rep. Tim Spear to the next meeting. That meeting is tentatively scheduled for July 1.

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