UPDATE: Large-mesh gill net fishery reopens, but with tighter regulations
By JORDAN TOMBERLIN
Tuesday, Oct. 10, the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries
issued a proclamation re-opening the Pamlico Sound large-mesh gill net
fishery, which had been closed on Sept. 26 because of four observed
interactions between federally protected sea turtles and fishing nets.
to a statement released by the North Carolina Department of
Environmental and Natural Resources (NCDENR), the fishery will re-open
on Monday, Oct. 15, with additional time restrictions.
said Chris Batsavage, chief of the Protected Resources Section at
NCDENR, “we talked to National Marine Fisheries and decided that...with
the takes we had left over, we could still operate [the fishery].”
the fishery will return to the allowable catch numbers outlined in the
2010 limited take permit application—which allowed for a greater number
of interactions with Kemp’s ridley turtles—rather than the catch
numbers outlined in the revised application, which was submitted on
Sept. 6, 2012.
But what fishermen are getting in allowable takes, they are paying for in hours of access.
an effort to allow access to the fishery while still protecting what
appears to be a greater number of sea turtles in the sound -- last year
there were no observed interactions at all -- the already
highly-monitored fishery will reopen with some new and very specific
First, fishing will be permitted only on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.
fishermen will only be allowed to soak their nets overnight, which
means that they cannot set their nets until one hour before sunset and
they must have their nets out of the water by one hour past sunrise.
to Batsavage, these provisions are aimed at limiting the turtles’
exposure to nets—particularly during the day, when turtles are more
active, more likely to get caught in nets, and, subsequently, more
likely to die.
On the one hand, this is good news.
fishery can be still be closed if observed interactions exceed the
allowable number, and these measures to limit interactions could, in
theory, prolong the life of the fishery—especially considering that the
allowable number of dead turtles is considerably lower than the
allowable number of live turtles.
“One more dead Kemp’s ridley could potentially shut it down,” Batsavage said.
of the extrapolation process used to determine the number of
interactions, Batsavage said that the impact of such an event would
depend on the amount of observer coverage.
He added that, for
their part, “[Marine Fisheries] is going to do everything we can to
maintain or exceed the requirements for observer coverage.”
a somewhat less comforting note, regulators aim for 10 percent
coverage, and they’re only required to have seven observers. At 10
percent coverage, one dead Kemp’s ridley is 10 dead Kemp’s ridleys, and
10 dead Kemp’s ridleys is a problem.
With that in mind, it
seems sensible to take measures to limit the number of potential
interactions—lest one of them be one too many.
there is an ugly flip side to that coin—the fact that these
restrictions will not only make it much harder and more dangerous for
fishermen to work, but they will also make flounder fishing a much less
The provision for an overnight-only soak
will mean that each day they can fish, fishermen will be returning from
setting their nets after dark and will be leaving well before sunrise
the following morning to retrieve them.
“That makes it a lot
more dangerous for the fishermen,” said Steve Bailey, owner of Risky
Business seafood and a Hatteras waterman.
On top of that,
because of the four-days-per-week and overnight soak restrictions, the
rest of this flounder season will likely produce nominal economic gains
“Before, I could set 2,000 yards of net and
leave them out all day,” said Steve Bailey. “But if they have to be up
an hour after sunrise, you can’t fish as much net...800 yards would be
the maximum that I could set.”
Obviously, fishing 60 percent less net for roughly half as many hours each day will almost certainly result in fewer fish.
that by the fact that fishermen will be operating on a mandatory
four-day workweek—assuming that conditions allow them to fish each of
those four days—and it seems unlikely that fishermen will be able to
recoup even half of what they would have made under the original
Still, though. They get to fish, and they’re happy about that.
“It’s a drop in the bucket,” Bailey said, “but it’s better than nothing.”