a special meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 21, the Dare County Board of
Commissioners voted unanimously to join in a lawsuit against the
state's Marine Fisheries Commission over its use of a supplement
process that plaintiffs say will drastically and unfairly reduce the
commercial and recreational catch of southern flounder.
The vote was 6-0. Commissioner Warren Judge could not attend the meeting because of a previous commitment.
Before they voted, the commissioners heard a presentation by attorney
Steve Weeks of Carteret County, who is one of the lawyers handling the
lawsuit by the North Carolina Fisheries Association, a fishing trade
Weeks told the commissioners that the attorneys handling the case are
recruiting counties to join the lawsuit for several reasons --
including making the point that it's not just fishermen who will suffer
harm from the MFC's supplement process, but also the people of North
Carolina, who are consumers of southern flounder -- one of the state's
most valuable fisheries.
Hyde and Carteret counties have already agreed to join the lawsuit.
In answer to a question from Commission Chairman Bob Woodard, Weeks
said that the Fisheries Association would assume the costs of the legal
Weeks said the immediate goal of the lawsuit is to get a temporary
restraining order to stop the Division of Marine Fisheries from
enforcing the "emergency" provisions in the supplement that would,
among other things, shorten the recreational and commercial season,
reduce the size of gill nets, and change the rules for pound nets that
would essentially impose a quota system.
The supplement to the Fisheries Management Plan allows the MFC to act
on its own in an emergency without the usual vetting by special
advisory committees that are supposed to consider social, economic, and
scientific issues and public comment.
In the case of its decision to use the supplement last fall, the MFC
took the action against the recommendations of some of its own staff.
And in the process of making the decision, the commission was split
into two factions -- commercial and recreational interests.
There are already requirements that reduce where and when commercial
fishermen can catch southern flounder because of the bycatch of
protected sea turtles.
If commercial fishermen start fishing for southern flounder too early
while the water is still warm, they could incidentally catch sea
turtles, which could close the fishery. However, now, because of
the new measures passed last year by the MFC, if they start too late,
they will run up against the Oct. 16 closure of the fishery.
Weeks told the commissioners that they were "very well aware of the economic impact of commercial fishing in Dare County."
He said that, according to the Division of Marine Fisheries, Dare
County has almost 1,000 licensed commercial fishermen. Around 90
percent of the active fishermen in the county claim more than 50
percent of their income from fishing, the most of any county in the
He said the statistics show that the dockside value of southern
flounder in the county is $1.5 million, and that the "value added" --
or other economic benefits such as restaurant sales to consumers --
would be "seven times that."
Dare, he said, is the county that benefits the most in the state
economically from southern flounder, followed by Carteret and then Hyde.
Weeks said supporters of the supplement process said that the southern
flounder stocks are depleted and that significant reductions are
"We believe the supplement was misused," he said. "We believe the
science was not adequate ... I do not believe the science supports the
stock being depleted.
"We believe North Carolina does have a sustainable fishery," he added.
Commission Vice-Chairman Wally Overman made the motion to join the
lawsuit, noting that the board passed three resolutions against the
supplement process last year. The motion was seconded by Jack Shea, who
spoke against overregulation in general.
Commissioner Beverly Boswell talked about the value of the fishing
heritage of Dare County, in addition to the economic importance of
keeping the commercial fishermen in business.
"Regulation without the science to back it is a fool's errand," said Commissioner Allen Burrus of Hatteras village.