January 20, 2010

Marine Fisheries moves toward gill net
ban in large areas of coastal waters


Fishermen would see large sections of coastal waters closed to larger mesh gill nets from May 15 through Dec. 15 under a proposal developed by the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries.

The proposed restrictions were presented in a Jan. 11 letter from Louis Daniel, state Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) chief, to Roy Crabtree, southeast regional administrator of National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).

The letter states that the rules would allow gill net fisheries to operate in a manner that would avoid the incidental capture of threatened or endangered sea turtles in fishing nets, while the state and NMFS develop a permanent statewide strategy permitted under the Endangered Species Act.

The proposed regulations would close a large section of estuarine waters from Oregon Inlet to the South Carolina border to set gill nets with a stretch mesh size greater than 3.5 inches from May 15 to Dec. 15.

Fishermen would be allowed to use small mesh nets, like those used for spot and croaker, but would have to stay with, or attend, their nets from May through December.

The gear ban would not apply to the Pamlico Sound Gill Net Restricted Area, an area running behind the Outer Banks that has been managed since 2000 under an Endangered Species Act Section 10 Permit with special gear restrictions and monitoring requirements.

The ban would not apply to runaround or strike gill nets that are used to catch species such as Spanish mackerel and striped mullet.

Gill nets used in the ocean also would not be affected.

The proposal will be presented to the state Marine Fisheries Commission (MFC) for approval at their March 24-25 meeting in Kitty Hawk.  If adopted by the commission, the rules could go into effect shortly after the meeting.

Daniel said the measures were based on scientific data from a range of state and federal sources.

Still, the proposal is unlikely to satisfy the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center, a Topsail Island turtle hospital that is expected to file a lawsuit charging the state with inadequately protecting turtles and violating the Endangered Species Act.

The lawsuit is expected to seek a ban on gill nets in all state waters, according to several sources.

In October, the center filed a notice of intent to sue the state DMF and MFC over the authorization of gill nets in state waters.

The notice was filed on behalf of the Beasley Center by Duke Environmental Law and Policy Center as a pro bono student project.  

The notice was addressed to federal and state officials, and also mailed to many well-known advocacy groups, including Audubon North Carolina, Defenders of Wildlife, EarthJustice, Southern Environmental Law Center, and the North Carolina Wildlife Federation.

The letter was also sent to Joe Albea and Dean Phillips of the Coastal Fisheries Reform Group, an ad hoc group of recreational fishermen that burst on the state fisheries management scene last spring with calls for bans on speckled trout gill nets and gamefish status designation for speckled trout and red drum.

The Coastal Fisheries Reform Group Web site states that the group endorses the removal of all gill nets from state waters.

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