May 24, 2016

Outer Banks Angling: Cobia Madness

By ROB ALDERMAN


I’ll start by apologizing for a lack of reports lately. I had some medical issues that needed attention, but I am on the mend and moving forward.

With that said, I did have a fair amount of time to monitor websites and social media for all things cobia, because it is that time of year -- and because, as I discussed in my last article, the cobia regulation debate continues to rage on.

The debate centers on how North Carolina should address a federal request to impose both a new creel limit and a season closure for cobia, and the proposals have recreational and professional fishermen in an uproar.

Federal waters greater than three miles from the beach are set to close completely to cobia fishing by June 20, and the feds are hoping the states will do the same in their waters. From Georgia to New York, the feds expect anglers and professionals to give up a lot.

Cobia are good to eat and hard fighters that are generally caught sight casting. Seeing your prey and throwing lures at it in the hopes of getting it to bite – well, is very appealing to many anglers and cobia season is big money on the Outer Banks.

The majority of anglers thought there should be no changes to the current laws for a few reasons.

First, many anglers think that the data being used is sloppy at best. No hard data exists to prove that the cobia numbers have suffered from what was said to be an overtake of the stock last year. Once again, the data for an overtake couldn’t be accurately determined. It’s all guess work at best -- not to mention that the last full stock assessment was done in 2012.

Second, many are very upset about the fact that a closure or new limits are not being forced on the Gulf states or Florida, where a considerable number of cobia are caught. This means that North Carolina and Virginia make concessions to take fewer fish, while the Gulf states and Florida have business as usual. Cobia are big business, and if you are going to hit a handful of mid-Atlantic states, then you also need to hit the other waters where these fish dominate. In some instances, cobia migrate to North Carolina and Virginia waters from as far away from South America. Our fish are Florida’s fish.

Third, many find these forced changes to the regulations by the South Atlantic Fisheries Management Council (SAFMC) and NOAA to be breaking federal law. The Magnuson Stevenson Act fisheries legislation requires that for this type of closure all parties involved be represented and a common goal be set down and voted on. All the states should have had private and professional fishermen present, along with representation from small businesses.

After a few meetings throughout the states -- where  the common theme among the attendees was for North Carolina not to comply with the law – the North Carolina  Marine Division of Marine Fisheries (NCDMF) handed down its regulations in the hopes of being found in  compliance by the federal council.

The laws, which became effective on Monday, May 23, include:

  • All cobia are to be 37 inches to the fork in length for harvesting.
  • For-hire charter boats may fish seven days a week and keep four fish per boat.
  • Surf and pier fishermen may fish seven days a week and possess one fish per person.
  • Recreational boaters may possess fish on Monday, Wednesday and Saturdays with only a two fish per boat limit.
NCDMF hopes that these changes will be enough to completely circumvent what NOAA plans, which is a full closure of the cobia harvest by June 20.

Everyone is waiting to hear what the answer is because we may find some changes to the rules you just read.

And, yes, the recreational angler takes a serious blow with this current plan and the rec guys bring a lot of money into our local economy chasing this species.

The charter boats take a fair hit dropping from a possible 12 fish per day to four, but at least they can possess the fish seven days a week -- unlike the recreational boaters, who can possess fish only three days a week.


Pier and surf anglers aren’t even phased by this, because it’s rare you hear of an angler from either venue catching more than one cobia in a day.

In reality, NCDMF caved, and by doing so, basically validated the weak and outdated science used to force this.

The NCDMF should have stood up to this by simply saying, "We are not going to comply," which is exactly what three congressman from Virginia are asking the Virginia Marine Resource Council (VMRC) to do.

U.S. Reps. Randy Forbes, Robert Wittman, and Scott Rigell have sent a formal letter to the VMRC asking them not to comply. The congressmen believe that NOAA and SAFMC have no science to back their claims, along with believing that they broke federal law and they do not want the science validated.

While North Carolina didn’t have a letter like that, U.S. Rep. Walter B. Jones has sent a letter to the SAFMC asking for relief from the cobia regulations, citing basically the same issues as the Virginia congressmen.

This entire situation is a mess, and it’s all politics.

In an already crazy election year, we have enough to deal with when it comes to crazy politics. The last thing anglers want is politics staring them in the face while they are trying to enjoy a pastime or trying to make their living.

But, for the Outer Banks and other parts of North Carolina, the crazy politics and fishing seem to be the norm any more. If it’s not cobia, it’s beach access or another species of fish. It doesn’t seem to quit.

I spoke with a buddy, French, or better known to some as Jonathan French, who attended the Kitty Hawk SAFMC cobia meeting – French is the one that made the comment to Gregg Waugh, the executive director of the SAFMC,  “ I wouldn’t trust you if your tongue was notarized.” (Click here to read an Island Free Press story on the meeting.)

French loves to live bait from piers and chase cobia when he can make it down from his home in Falls Church, Va. He is known by many on the North Beach pier circuit. A great and smart guy, French has taken a serious interest in this subject and led an online fight as hard as he can and participated in every meeting he could, by any means he could.

I asked him how he felt about North Carolina caving to a new policy, and he simply said, “I think it’s BS – solving a problem that doesn’t exist. No cut should’ve been necessary beyond the cut to one fish per person (per day), because the feds violated their own rules for making fisheries management policy decisions.”

This discussion is far from over.

Everyone is waiting to see the position Virginia takes and whether or not our waters will close June 20.

If this subject is anything like other local fishing issues, I am sure it will get worse, before it gets better.


(Rob Alderman has lived on the Outer Banks for more than 16 years and has worked in the recreational fishing industry the entire time. A former variety fishing TV show host, beach fishing guide, tackle shop and pier employee, Rob currently owns and operates Outer Banks Kayak Fishing. He is on the Pro-Staff of Bending Branches LLC, Wilderness Systems Kayaks, Release Reels, Yakattack and is an ambassador for Ugly Stik. You can follow his adventures at www.FishMilitia.com or OuterBanksKayakFishing.com.)


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