May 23, 2016

MFC imposes new restrictions on recreational cobia catch

The North Carolina Marine Fisheries Commission voted last week to impose restrictions on the recreational cobia fishery to try to avoid a closing of the fishery on June 20 by a federal agency.

The new restriction are effective today -- Monday, May 23.

On Thursday, the commission voted to impose the following restrictions on recreational cobia:

  • A 37-inch fork length (measured from the tip of the snout to the fork in the tail) minimum size limit for all recreational fisheries.

  • Anglers fishing from private boats may only fish on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays under daily possession limit of two fish per vessel or one fish per person if only one person is on board.

  • Those fishing from the shore or shore-based structures (pier or surf) may fish seven days a week with a daily possession limit of one fish per person.

  • Those fishing on a for-hire boat (charter or guide) may fish seven days a week with a daily possession limit of four fish per vessel or one fish per person if fewer than four people are on board.

  • Those practicing catch-and-release may fish seven days a week.

The commission’s decision was in response to a federal announcement that, because the annual recreational catch limit was exceeded last year, the South Atlantic Fisheries Management Council (SAFMC) intends to close the recreational cobia season in federal waters north of the Georgia-Florida border on June 20.

In order to remain consistent with the federal fishery management plan, the federal government encouraged states to close state waters for recreational cobia season on June 20. The commission did not approve the division’s recommendation to either close state waters on June 20 or select one of eight size and vessel limit combinations already analyzed by federal government that would have resulted in a lengthened season if adopted by both North Carolina and Virginia.

The commission’s decision to impose these additional restrictions is an effort to extend the recreational cobia season in state waters. The N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries will submit these new restrictions to the federal government and request an expedited review to determine whether these actions will be sufficient to allow the season to be extended in state waters beyond June 20.

If the federal government determines that these restrictions are not sufficient to remain consistent with the federal fishery management plan for the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic regions, additional restrictions may be necessary.

For more specifics on the regulations, see Proclamation FF-25-2016 at http://ncmarinefisheries.net/proclamations.

In addition, on Friday, U.S. Rep. Walter B. Jones, R-N.C., urged the SAFMC to consider several changes to management of Atlantic cobia. 

In a letter to the South Atlantic Council, Jones argued that the closure is based on suspect science and discriminates against fishermen in North Carolina and Virginia.

“Unless the South Atlantic Council takes action to improve the management of cobia, fishermen in North Carolina and Virginia, as well as the businesses and communities that support them, will be subject to lost fishing opportunities and undue economic harm,” said Congressman Jones.

To improve the situation, the congressman asked the Council to consider the following actions:

  • Ask the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) for an emergency measure to provide additional 2016 recreational fishing opportunities for Atlantic cobia in federal waters;
  • Use a Framework Amendment to the existing cobia management plan to, among other things, eliminate discriminatory impacts to North Carolina and Virginia fishermen in 2017 and beyond; and,
  • Work with NMFS to improve the science used in the management of all fisheries, including cobia.     

The Council is scheduled to review cobia management at its upcoming June 13-17 summer meeting in Cocoa Beach, Fla.  A copy of Congressman Jones’ letter to the Council can be found here.   

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