Fisheries regulators reject gill-net ban but adopt
other restrictions at emotional DMF meeting
State fisheries regulators rejected a proposed ban on large mesh gill
nets used for flounder fishing but adopted other restrictions to reduce
the incidental capture of sea turtles in fishing nets at a meeting
Thursday, Feb. 18, that was attended by about 400 people, mostly
Now the state and fishermen are holding their collective breath,
waiting to hear if the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) will
decide the measures offer adequate protection to sea turtles.
don’t believe they (NMFS) will accept this,” said Louis
Daniel, director of the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries
put the state on notice in July that it was not in compliance with the
Endangered Species Act (ESA) after observing the incidental capture of
turtles in flounder nets in Core Sound. All five species of
turtles found in North Carolina – green, loggerhead, leatherback,
Kemp’s ridley, and hawksbill – are listed as either
endangered or threatened.
an ESA Section 10 Permit, any capture of turtles in fishing nets is
illegal, even if the turtles are released alive and unharmed.
permit allows restricted fishing unless the number of captures
authorized for any species is reached.
Carolina has had a Section 10 Permit for a large swath of Pamlico Sound
since 2000, but other waters, including Core Sound, are not covered.
The rules adopted by the state Marine Fisheries Commission (MFC) last
week are interim measures effective until a statewide Section 10 Permit
is approved by NMFS.
separate but related issue is a lawsuit that was filed on Tuesday, Feb.
23, by the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center at
Topsail Island, represented by the Duke Environmental Law and Policy
Center. The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern
District of North Carolina and claims that the state, including DMF and
MFC, authorizes gill net fishing in violation of the ESA. The center
asks that the court ban all gill net fishing in state waters.
we elect to not address NMFS’ concerns and a lawsuit is filed, a
judge could order an injunction stopping all commercial fishing that
could last indefinitely,” MFC chairman Rob Bizzell warned
Bradley Styron, a commercial fisherman and seafood dealer from Cedar
Island, said he recognized the risk, but believed there were ways to
eliminate turtle interactions without putting fishermen out of work.
proposed the compromise measures that were approved in a 5 to 2
vote. Those measures allow fishermen to use large mesh gill
from 5 p.m. Monday until 10 a.m. Friday, authorizing 2,000 yards to be
fished in 100 yard shots with at least 25 yards between nets.
commission’s vote came after five hours of public comment.
Close to 400 people, mostly commercial fishermen, crowded the
auditorium at the Riverfront Convention Center in New Bern.
fishermen spoke about the economic hardship that would result from
banning large mesh set gill nets from May 15 until December 15.
are taking away our jobs. This is our only income,” said
Susan Barber, a commercial fisherman from Rodanthe.
Caldwell said his business, Swartz Fishing Supplies on Hatteras Island,
had already felt an impact.
“As soon as
the proposed rules were made public, people stopped buying net,” he
fishermen pointed out that little is known about the current health of
sea turtle populations.
from Rodanthe said he has seen many more turtles, especially green
turtles, in the past few years.
position is to support the status quo until the federal government
provides a turtle stock assessment,” said Britton Shackelford,
president of North Carolina Watermen United, an advocacy group.
The last survey of the South Atlantic turtle population by NMFS was
conducted 25 years ago and relied on data from Florida nesting sites,
according to fisheries commissioner Edward Lee Mann from Manteo.
the vast majority of people speaking at the meeting asked the
commissioners to try to minimize hardships for commercial fishermen and
fish houses, several recreational fishermen felt that the proposed ban
wasn’t restrictive enough.
Ammons, executive director of the North Carolina Coastal Conservation
Association, a recreational fishing group, said the proposed ban was
too limited in scope. He said commercial flounder fishermen
move into other fisheries, placing more stress on species like speckled
a statement read into the record on behalf of Seth Vernon, an inshore
guide who helped produce “Redfish Can’t Jump,” a film
advocating net bans and red drum gamefish status, urged the elimination
of all gill nets from state waters.
McKeon, president of the commercial fishing trade group, the North
Carolina Fisheries Association, said protection of sea turtles was not
the true concern of the recreational fishing groups involved in the
has absolutely nothing to do with turtles. This is about
banning nets,” McKeon said.
proclamation issuing the new rules could be released this
DMF director Louis Daniel said he expects a timely review and response
NMFS doesn’t approve the compromise, the MFC would have time to
revise the rules before turtles begin showing up in North Carolina
waters in May. The next MFC meeting is scheduled for March 23-25 in