Marine Fisheries and sea turtle center settle lawsuit
By SUSAN WEST
fisheries officials approved new gill net restrictions on Thursday,
April 13, that settle a lawsuit filed by the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle
Rescue and Rehabilitation Center in February.
The lawsuit had sought a ban on the use of all gill nets in state
waters, charging that state officials violated the federal Endangered
Species Act by allowing the use of fishing nets that could accidentally
capture sea turtle species given special protection under the act.
Rob Bizzell, chairman of the state Marine Fisheries Commission (MFC),
said the new rules are not a ban but would result in a significant
reduction in the amount of gill net gear used in North Carolina,
reducing the risk of turtle captures.
The new regulations went into effect Saturday, April 15, and apply
year-round to all gill nets with a mesh size between 4 and 6 1/2 inches
that are fished as set nets in internal coastal waters, with the
exception of Albemarle and Currituck Sounds. The rules also will not
apply in the Pamlico Sound Gill Net Restricted Area, an area in the
southeastern Pamlico Sound where large mesh flounder gill nets have
been managed under a special permit since 2000, during the September to
December 2010 season.
The rules do not apply to run-around, strike, or drop nets.
The regulations restrict sets to weeknights, limit total yardage to
2,000 yards or less, limit shots to 100 yards with 25-yard spacing,
restrict net height, require lead core or leaded bottom lines, and
prohibit most floats and buoys.
“Fishermen will be hammered right smart by these regulations,” said MFC
member Bradley Styron from his Cedar Island home Saturday.
He speculated that some fishermen are likely to quit the fishery
But Styron said the rules, approved unanimously by the MFC Thursday,
were the only option that emerged during negotiations with the Beasley
Center that would allow fishermen to continue to use gill nets.
He said Jean Beasley, executive director of the center, worked hard to
help craft a solution that would allow fishing while also protecting
The settlement also requires expanded observer coverage on fishing
boats and creation of a permanent sea turtle advisory committee.
Styron cautioned that the gill net rules could be strengthened at any
time and said it was still unclear whether the new regulations would
satisfy federal requirements for an Endangered Species Act Section 10
Permit. Without the permit, any capture of turtles in fishing
nets in the state is illegal, even if the turtles are released alive
“This isn’t an issue that is going to disappear. We need to
figure out innovative ways to work with turtle populations that are
increasing,” Styron said.