November 16, 2017

Marine Fisheries panel to vote on cobia regulations Thursday

Outer Banks Voice

Cobia regulations for recreational anglers for 2018 tops the agenda of the of the N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission meeting that continues Thursday at the Hilton Garden Inn in Kitty Hawk.

The vote was originally among the first agenda items when the two-day meeting began Wednesday afternoon, but was moved to Thursday at the request of commission member Janet Rose of Currituck so the public would have an opportunity to comment Wednesday evening.

The panel will be presented a several options to consider, none of which have a closing date for the 2018 cobia season. Cobia fishing was shut down in North Carolina waters on Sept. 1.

A source that asked not to be identified because they were not authorized to speak publicly said commission chairman Chuck Laughridge was going to still push for a closing date before Thursday’s vote.

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission recently approved an Interstate Fishery Management Plan for Atlantic Migratory Group Cobia that complements federal regulations for state waters from Georgia to New York.

It sets a recreational bag limit of one fish per person and a minimum size limit of 36 inches fork length.

The commercial minimum size limit will be 33 inches fork length and a possession limit of two-fish per person, not to exceed six fish per vessel in 2018.

The plan also sets state-specific recreational harvest targets that allow individual states to set vessel limits of up to six fish per vessel and seasons to best suit their needs.

North Carolina was allocated a soft harvest target of 236,316 pounds for cobia next year.

The Northern Regional, Southern Regional and Finfish advisory committees met last month and gave three different proposals, although all agreed not to place a closure on the season.

The Northern Advisory Committee, which includes Outer Banks residents, met in Manteo, where the entire process of restricting cobia catches was called “flawed” since they were tightened three years ago.

“The data is incomplete and resulted from one state and it was not North Carolina,” said Bill Gorham of Southern Shores, who also served on an advisory panel to the South Atlantic Council.

He noted the state was cut out of the fall season when it was closed Sept. 1 under the current regulations, that fish caught on the piers had to be released, and that there was a lot of discard from the commercial fishery.

Cobia could only be caught in state waters this year, within three miles from shore, after fishing in federal waters was closed last January.

In making a motion for its plan recommendation, Northern Advisory Committee member Jim Rice questioned the projected harvest for North Carolina, stating the state’s cobia fishery is disadvantaged by the harvest limit.

The motion was seconded by Raymond Pugh, Jr. and passed by a 6-1 vote to set a four-fish vessel limit for charter boats and a two-fish limit for private vessels.

While projections show that would exceed the Atlantic State’s target by 23,447 pounds, that is within the 35,726 pound difference between this year’s projected take and the preliminary harvest report.

The Southern Committee voted for a 36-inch fork length, one fish per person and two fish per vessel for both charter and private boats.

A more complicated formula was recommended by the Finfish Advisory panel, which wants a four fish per day limit for charter vessels, provided four people are on board.

Private boats could catch up to two cobia per day if at least two people are on board, with each person allowed to keep one fish per day once they reach shore.

The Finfish Committee also recommended that those fish be tagged in a system to be developed by the Division of Marine Fisheries.

And the panel recommended if the state does not reach 50 percent of the projected harvest by July 1, then the limits would be expanded to six fish per day for all recreational vessels.

The Division of Marine Fisheries came up with its own recommendations, however, and will ask the Marine Fisheries Commission to set the limit at one fish per vessel limit for private boats and a three fish per vessel limit for charter boats, with no season closure.

“These measures will constrain landings below the recreational harvest limit for North Carolina and allow for landings in the fishery throughout the year,” according to a memo from Steve Poland, Fisheries Management Section for the division.

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