North Carolina had a great year in 2016, likely because of
unseasonably warm inshore waters into the winter. But a proposed
tightening of shrimp trawling regulations could dash hopes of future
On Tuesday, Jan.
17, the North Carolina Marine Fisheries Commission will hear public
comments about a petition presented last month that would put more
limits on shrimp trawling in state waters. The petitioner North
Carolina Wildlife Federation, a nonprofit conservation group, says
the restrictions are necessary to protect fish nurseries and juvenile
fish species – in particular, weakfish, spot and croaker – and
reduce unintended catch of finfish. But fishermen say it would
devastate the commercial shrimp industry, the second most lucrative
fishery in the state, behind blue crab.
“It’ll put me out of business –
period,” said Zack Davis, a 32-year-old Marshallberg high school
teacher who has been shrimping since he was age 12.
Davis said that
the amount of shrimp that could be caught would go down drastically
and hurt every aspect of the commercial fishing industry.
“When the fish
houses go out of business,” he said, “you’ve got nobody to sell
president of the North Carolina Fisheries Association, a nonprofit
commercial fishing group, said it’s part of a misleading campaign
by some recreational fishing and environmental groups to ban all
commercial gill nets and trawling.
“This is not a
shrimping meeting,” he said of next week’s meeting in New Bern.
“This is when you draw the line in the sand. It’s our Popeye
WHAT'S BEEN PROPOSED
petition proposes to expand protected fish nursery areas to all the
state’s estuarine and ocean waters, cut trawling to three days a
week, limit tow time to 45 minutes, decrease the size of trawl nets
and eliminate nighttime shrimping.
is currently closed to inshore waters on weekends, but is open all
week in the ocean within state waters 3 miles from shore.
Trawling is also permitted at night.
As submitted on
Nov. 2 to the Fisheries Commission, the proposed rules would
designate all currently undesignated coastal fishing waters as
special secondary nursery areas, require shrimp be a certain size
before opening the shrimp season and define gear used in the nursery
Dare and Hyde
counties have passed resolutions stating their opposition to the
proposed rules, and the Ocracoke Island fishing community has started
a petition against the rule changes.
chief executive officer of the North Carolina Wildlife Federation,
denies that the intent of proposal is to stop shrimp trawling or put
fishermen out of business. On the contrary, he said, it is part of
its ongoing “Sound Solutions” campaign to reform marine resource
conservation with “holistic” habitat protection practices.
balanced, fair approach and still affords shrimp trawling,”
Gestwicki said. “It simply limits the gear and the way the gear is
According to the
Wildlife Federation website, the Sound Solutions effort is based on
the belief that the resources are public trusts that need protection
to benefit all citizens into the future.
the importance of both commercial and recreational fishing, but
today’s practices are unsustainable,” according to the site.
“Without stewardship, N.C.’s marine resources will deplete until
there’s nothing left for anyone.”
Part of the
proposed reforms is decreasing the maximum head rope from 220 feet to
90 feet, which limits the net size. Trawlers currently are
hauling “a football field of nets” behind them, Gestwicki said.
One of the
important goals of the petition, he said, is reducing bycatch of fish
– much of them juveniles – captured along with the shrimp. The
proposal would also put an 8-inch limit on spot and a 10-inch limit
on American croaker. The petition says that the two species, along
with weakfish, are among species whose status is “depleted and
declining.” Expansion of the protected nursery area would allow
more fish to survive and reproduce.
The petition was
deemed complete on Jan. 5, said division spokeswoman Patricia Smith.
That means that the commission has decided that the petition has the
necessary information required for it to move forward for further
A meeting of
five advisory committees for the Marine Fisheries Commission will
meet on Jan. 17 at the New Bern Riverfront Convention Center at 12:30
p.m. Public comments will be taken on the shrimp trawling
Shrimp is the
most popular seafood in the country, and is not surprisingly a
favorite seafood in North Carolina. The state heavily promotes fresh
shrimp’s superior sweet and salty taste in its NC Catch campaign,
prompting consumers to demand wild-caught shrimp rather than settling
for imported farmed shrimp.
fishing industry advocates say the proposed 90-day closure of inshore
and near-shore waters would have huge economic implications.
Recreational fishing groups disagree. Source: Monthly shrimp landing
values 2011-2015, Division of Marine Fisheries
Although most of
the nation’s shrimp harvest is caught in the Gulf of Mexico, it is
a huge fishery in North Carolina. In 2015, more than 9 million pounds
of shrimp were landed in the state. Most shrimpers are small
operators, often family businesses, who shrimp when the opportunity
executive director of North Carolina Coastal Conservation
Association, a nonprofit recreational saltwater fishing advocacy
group. said that “we don’t buy” that the proposed rules, if
approved, would reduce the availability of fresh shrimp for
consumers, or that they would destroy the livelihoods of the fishing
foremost, if we can keep the trawlers off the designated nursery
areas and give the juvenile fish a chance to grow, that’s going to
benefit everybody,” he said. “We’re not looking at a complete
frequent charge from watermen, Sneed denied that the association is
trying to eliminate commercial fishing, trawling and gill nets.
Rather, it wants stricter net rules similar to what other states have
“Our goal is
to raise the level of fish populations in North Carolina,” he said,
“where it benefits both commercial and recreational fishing.”
BYCATCH AND ENFORCEMENT
According to the
petition, in 2014 about 15 million pounds of juvenile spot, Atlantic
croaker, and weakfish were caught and discarded in North Carolina
waters. But Jess Hawkins, a retired fisheries biologist, says other
factors such as climate change, predation and pollution also
contribute to decreased populations of some species. There is no
indication that shrimp has been overfished, he added, although their
numbers can be affected by environmental conditions, including
storms, water temperatures and salinity.
is the only state on the East Coast that still allows inshore shrimp
trawling, but Hawkins said its vast estuarine system is different
than any other state. Pamlico Sound has the most shrimp, but 1
million acres of North Carolina waters are closed to trawling.
“We are a
haven for small fish, just because of the way our estuaries are set
up,” Hawkins said. “They’re very shallow.”
Hawkins has done
some consulting work for the North Carolina Fisheries Association.
triangular nets behind a boat to catch shrimp on the bottom. Small
tri-nets behind the trawl show what they’re catching and are
typically checked every 15 minutes or so. Bycatch is still an issue,
Hawkins said, but North Carolina fishermen have worked closely with
fishery managers to develop mechanisms to keep out untargeted
“They want to
catch shrimp,” he said. “They don’t want to catch those fish.”
When the nets
are brought up, the fish, whether alive or dead, are culled out and
thrown overboard. Mortality varies by species and water temperature.
Hawkins, who had
worked for the division for 30 years and served on the commission for
two years, says that North Carolina was the first state to use
finfish excluders on trawl nets, which reduced bycatch 40 percent to
70 percent. Another type of excluder was developed last year that
reduced bycatch by an additional 40 percent.
biologists would need to sample areas to see when the small fish have
moved out, Hawkins said, and there would have to be more enforcement
“Based on my
experience, and based on the scope of the proposal, it will be a
monumental task for the division to handle these issues, if they
this winter’s unusually long shrimp season as an example of the
need for flexibility in management policies.
“Nobody I know
would have had all these green-tailed white shrimp in December off
the Outer Banks,” he said. “This is the first time in more than
40 years that’s happened. Usually they migrate to the south by
consumers and restaurants in North Carolina to have access to healthy
North Carolina seafood,” said Ann Simpson, interim director of NC
Catch, a nonprofit educational and marketing group that promotes
fresh North Carolina seafood.
line, really, is that fishermen need sustainable habitats and
Simpson said NC
Catch agrees that it is important to minimalize the impacts of
trawling, such as bycatch. But the appropriate – and effective –
way to address issues, she said, is through the Division of Marine
Fisheries’ Fishery Management Plan process, where all stakeholders
work together towards best use and protection of the resource.
management plan was updated in 2015.
collaborative effort between marine scientists, researchers and
commercial fishermen – the Shrimp Bycatch Reduction Industry Work
Group – recently reported that in the first year of testing, four
new prototype devices have reduced trawl bycatch by 44 percent.
The group, which
just completed the first year of a three-year research project, was
established in 2015 by the state Marine Fisheries Commission.
that it is ironic that the shrimp trawling petition was presented
around the same time the working group reported the success of the
bycatch reduction gear tests.
“It seems to
have a lot of promise,” Simpson said.
There are three
species of shrimp commonly found in state waters, and their sizes
vary tremendously by area because of the state’s extensive
But Davis, the
Carteret County shrimper, said that there’s an art and science to
shrimping that the proposed rules don’t recognize.
shrimping is good when it’s blowing and the bottom is stirred up.
Nighttime shrimping is good if the water is clear – because that
when the shrimp are feeding. When the shrimp get big and start
migrating, then daytime shrimping could be good.
“You just look
around and around all day,” he said. “Sometimes, it’ll take us
a day, a day and a half, to find the shrimp. I can count on one hand
where they’ve been out farther than three miles.”
Advisory committees to the Marine Fisheries Commission will hold a
public meeting at 12:30-5:30 p.m. Jan. 17 at the New Bern Convention
Center, 203 South Front St. in New Bern. The public will have the
opportunity to comment on the petition during this session.
The commission is expected to act on the petition during its business
meeting, Feb. 15-16 at the Hilton Riverside in Wilmington.
Public comments may also be sent via email to:
article is provided by Coastal Review Online, an online news service
covering North Carolina's coast. For more news, features, and
information about the coast, go to www.coastalreview.org.)