July 17, 2008

County’s watermen’s commission takes on spiny dogfish


Spiny dogfish moved to the top spot on the list of issues the Dare County Commission for Working Watermen plans to address.

“Resolving this issue can bring some immediate relief to the commercial fishing industry in the county,” said commission member Dewey Hemilright when the group met July 8 to prioritize a list of potential action items.

The commission wants to see 1.3 million pounds of the 8 million pound East Coast spiny dogfish harvest quota for the upcoming fishing year allocated specifically to North Carolina.

That request falls in line with landings from 1988 to 2001, when state landings averaged 15 percent of the total.

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC), the regional body that manages dogfish, hasn’t assigned portions of the total harvest quota to individual states, opting to parcel out the quota on a seasonal and regional basis.

Since 2002 when the ASMFC management plan went into effect, North Carolina has dropped from second to fifth place in Atlantic dogfish landings.

Landings in other states have nearly filled the quota before dogfish even swim to the waters off North Carolina.

In January, Hatteras Island fish house owner Tilman Gray bought dogfish for just four days before the harvest quota was filled and the fishery closed.

The CWW approved a motion made by vice-chairman Jamie Reibel to draft a resolution to Gov. Mike Easley requesting that the state ask for the 1.3 million pound quota at the August meeting of the ASMFC.  The CWW will also ask the Dare County Board of Commissioners to pass the resolution when the board meets July 21.

Although state fisheries officials recognize that North Carolina fishermen have drawn the short end of the stick under the ASMFC plan, fishermen complain that officials have postponed seeking a remedy to the situation.

“For six years in a row, fishermen in other states have been fishing while North Carolina fishermen haven’t,” Hemilright said.

“Where is our leadership?  I have to wonder if they don’t want us to starve and go under,” he said.

Other commission members agreed that state officials haven’t been forceful enough in pressing for solutions at a time when more and more fishermen and fish houses are going out of business. 

“This is an emergency situation,” said CWW member Mikey Daniels.

Daniels said a dogfish cutting and processing operation could be set up in the state for the winter fishing season if the quota request is approved quickly. 

He estimated that a 1.3 million pound quota could mean 10 weeks of work for about 50 people in the winter months when the unemployment rate in the county spikes.

“There’s a lot of economic hurting in this county right now.  Setting up one plant in this county is important,” said Mike Johnson, county commissioner and chairman of the watermen panel.

Other issues discussed at the meeting included striped bass quotas, promotion of local seafood, and developing a public relations campaign for the county fishing industry.

“We have to tell our own story. It’s clear that we can’t rely on others to do that for us,” said Mikey Daniels.


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