August 22, 2013

Marine Fisheries panel will consider trawling ban next week


In light of overwhelming opposition to a petition to close shrimp trawling in sound waters, watermen and their supporters are cautiously optimistic that the proposal will be voted down at an upcoming state fisheries panel meeting.

“Things are fairly positive, based on some of the conversations I’ve had,” said Jerry Schill, a spokesman for the ad-hoc group, Shrimp Defense. “But we’re not taking anything for granted. We want to make sure that the industry has a presence there.”

 The North Carolina Marine Fisheries Commission will meet next Wednesday and Thursday, Aug. 28-29, in Raleigh. The vote to grant or deny a petition to reclassify most of the state’s internal coastal waters as permanent secondary nursery areas is scheduled for 11:15 a.m. on Aug. 29.

Four advisory panels to the commission voted in July to recommend that the petition be denied. If the petition for rulemaking would be granted, it would effectively ban shrimp and crab trawling in North Carolina inshore waters.

It was not a proposal that the commercial fishing community took lightly.

After New Bern artist Tim Hergenrader submitted the petition in June, supporters of the commercial industry came together from all corners of the coast and organized an impressive showing at the July advisory committee meeting in New Bern.  More than 700 fishermen, seafood dealers, business owners, public officials, coastal community leaders, and fish consumers descended on the convention center where the meeting was held, and about 24 shrimp trawlers – from Wanchese, Harkers Island, and other coastal areas -- were anchored in the Neuse River near Union Point Park. 

“It was an amazing sight,” said Schill, who was president of the North Carolina Fisheries Association, a non-profit commercial fishing trade group, for 18 years before retiring in 2005. “That was very powerful. People gathered across the street to see them.”
Schill, who in the last three years has been helping fishermen part-time, said that the experience in New Bern was one of the most pleasurable and rewarding experiences in his years representing watermen.

The turnout reflected the reality that whatever affects shrimpers will have a ripple effect on everyone who makes their living through fishing, whether it’s catching it, selling it, or cooking it, said Alison Willis, an owner of Mr. Big Seafood on Harkers Island. 
“There were obviously so, so many supporters of the fishing industry and the shrimpers themselves,” she said. “It brought all fishermen together. There was industry unity to come together and defeat this threat. I think that was really important and really good to see.”

Willis said it was heartening for the fishermen who attended to realize that many people who are not directly associated with the industry are nonetheless very supportive of the fishing community, including inland residents who appreciate the value of local fresh seafood.

“That’s been a huge thing for fishermen, because they feel like there’s other voices other than their own,” she said. “Fishermen want to be left alone. They want to be fishing. They don’t want to be doing paperwork and fighting battles.”

At the July 30 meeting, Hergenrader -- who has publicly supported a controversial gamefish bill promoted by the Coastal Conservation Association, a lobby group for recreational fishing -- defended the petition, saying it was about designating the nursery, not about ending shrimping, since ocean trawling would not be affected.

But most shrimp in North Carolina are caught in the sounds by smaller vessels.

Division of Marine Fisheries director Louis Daniel said that the action Hergenrader’s petition proposes lacks scientific analysis, would damage the credibility of previously designated nursery areas, and would impact other fisheries not named in the petition.
The agency, the regulatory enforcer for the commission, recommended that any consideration of additional nursery designation should follow “deliberative, scientific sampling and analysis.”

Virtually no one spoke in favor of the petition at the meeting, said Karen Amspacher, from Harkers Island.  Out of 3 hours of public comment, nine minutes – three speakers – expressed support for the trawling ban.
The audience abided by warnings not to applaud or shout or otherwise interrupt speakers, she said.

Amspacher said that it was clear that not only was the petition legally questionable, but that the commission saw how seriously the fishing industry took it as a threat to their livelihoods.

“It was an amazing cross-section of the community,” she said “It was an excellent rally.” 

As a longtime observer of the regulatory process in fisheries management, Schill said that the commission does not necessarily always go along with recommendations from its advisory panels, and it has no obligation to do so. But he said that if had to guess, there’s another agenda afoot with Hegenrader’s request.

“I suspect that the petitioner really had no intention of being approved,” he said. “He’s trying to effect change in shrimp management.”

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