seeks ban on gill nets in state waters
Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center last week
filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking a ban on gill nets in state
Topsail Island facility alleges that the North Carolina Marine
Fisheries Commission, the state Division of Marine Fisheries, and
division director Louis Daniel have violated the federal Endangered
Species Act by permitting and licensing gill nets that catch protected
lawsuit asks the court to prohibit any gill net fishing in state
coastal waters “until and unless” the state can show
compliance with the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Coastal waters
include the Atlantic Ocean out to three miles, the sounds, and portions
of estuarine waters.
strictly a gill netter, so this would put me out of business
completely,” said Frisco commercial fisherman Bill Van Druten,
who fishes out of Hatteras village on his boat, Net Results.
he said the ban would affect every commercial fisherman in Hatteras
because almost all use gill nets during certain fishing seasons or use
bait caught in gill nets.
lawsuit was filed in North Carolina’s Eastern District Court and
assigned to Judge Terrence Boyle, a name familiar on the Outer
Banks. Boyle presided in the lawsuit by environmental groups
off-road vehicle use on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore and signed
off on the consent decree that has governed public access to the
beaches since 2008. The Defenders of Wildlife and the
Audubon Society were represented by the Southern Environmental Law
Center in the complaint against the National Park Service.
Duke Environmental Law and Policy Clinic represents the Beasley Center
in the suit over gill nets. The complaint was submitted by
students and by Michelle Nowlin, supervising attorney for the
clinic. Prior to joining the Duke faculty in June 2008,
worked at the Southern Environmental Law Center in Chapel Hill for 13
every Atlantic state with significant sea turtle populations has banned
or severely restricted these nets in areas where sea turtles nest and
forage, proving that commercial fishing can prosper without this
harmful technology,” Nowlin said in a press release.
Van Druten, who fishes in Pamlico Sound and in ocean waters managed by
the state, said he and many other Hatteras fishermen won’t have
don’t have federal fishing permits, and even if I did, none of
those fisheries are year-round,” he explained. He said most
federal permits are no longer issued by the government, but must be
bought from a fisherman leaving the fishery and can be expensive.
of the boats used for gill netting are small boats or skiffs, not built
for steaming three miles or more out into the Atlantic Ocean to fish in
said that if the controversy that erupted last summer over proposed
pound net locations was any indication, switching from gill nets to
pound nets was likely to create more user conflict issues with the
also said the market for blue crabs dries up by June, if not earlier,
eliminating crab potting as a substitute fishery.
Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) put the state on notice in July that it
was not in compliance with the ESA after observing the incidental
capture of turtles in flounder nets in the Core Sound area.
five species of turtles – green, loggerhead, leatherback,
Kemp’s ridley, and hawksbill – found in North Carolina are
listed as either threatened or endangered.
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 allowed
interactions for any species is reached.
Carolina has had a Section 10 Permit for a large swath of Pamlico Sound
since 2000, but other state waters are not covered.
Druten said the prospect that his fishing business could be shut down
is all the more confounding because he doesn’t catch turtles in
the small mesh gill net he uses for species such as Spanish mackerel.
from the NMFS observer program show that observers accompanied him on
51 fishing trips where he made 287 hauls and no turtles were captured
in his nets.
is working on a response to the Beasley Center lawsuit that should be
filed in the court by the middle of March.