On Sunday, April 26, a group of locals was fishing on the beach in Buxton.
Part of the group headed home, but one person decided to check out the Avon beach. In his cooler were three small sea mullet that had been caught earlier, and he was hoping to add a few more for dinner that night.
The angler had no luck in Avon and decided to clean the three small mullet before he left the beach. He threw the scraps to the begging seagulls.
The angler said a National Park Service ranger sat in his truck and watched the fish cleaning and gull feeding. As the angler left the beach, the ranger turned on blue lights, stopped him, and gave him a written warning for leaving fish parts on the beach.
I haven?t been surf fishing a lot recently, but I do remember that cleaning fish on the beach is prohibited by North Carolina Marine Fisheries regulations.
Marine Fisheries officers want to be able to measure your fish to make sure it is legal, and, of course, they can?t do that if it is cleaned and the head and tail are not attached.
Here is the regulation:
SUBCHAPTER 03M – FINFISH
SECTION .0100 – FINFISH, GENERAL
15A NCAC 03M .0101 MUTILATED FINFISH
It is unlawful to possess aboard a vessel or while engaged in fishing from the shore or a pier any species of finfish that is subject to a size or harvest restriction without having head and tail attached, except for mullet when used for bait.
Blueback herring, hickory shad and alewife shall be exempt from this Rule when used for bait provided that not more than two fish per boat or fishing operation may be cut for bait at any one time.
However, I did not realize, and apparently others don?t realize, that the Park Service also prohibits cleaning fish on the beach, except at designated locations, and feeding park wildlife with fish scraps.
Here are those citations from the Code of Federal Regulations (Title 36: Parks, Forest, and Public Property) and the Cape Hatteras National Seashore Superintendent?s Compendium of regulations.
From the park compendium:
1.5(a)2 The cleaning of fish except at locations designated for such purpose is prohibited. Fish remains must be properly removed from the beach area.
From Title 36:
?2.2 Wildlife protection.
(a) The following are prohibited:
(2) The feeding, touching, teasing, frightening or intentional disturbing of wildlife nesting, breeding or other activities.
I e-mailed National Park Service Superintendent Mike Murray about the NPS regulations and their enforcement.
Here is his reply:
In general terms, there are both NC Marine Fisheries regulations and NPS regulations that apply to cutting off heads and tails of fish, or feeding wildlife, or cleaning fish and disposing of fish parts on the beach. The NPS regulations are nothing new. Feeding wildlife is prohibited NPS-wide in 36 CFR Section 2.2 (a) (2). The prohibition on cleaning fish except at designated locations and the requirement that fish remains be properly removed from the beach have been in our Compendium since at least 2006, if not longer. It was also listed in the Interim Strategy EA (p. 101, Table 3, Alternative D), in the Interim Strategy FONSI (Table 3, p. 40, second bullet under “Outreach and Compliance, General” section), and in the old ORV brochure posted on our Web site. It is also in the new ORV brochure posted on our Web site (third panel on inside page; 6th bullet from the bottom in the “Please Drive Safely” section).
I’m not aware of any new staff emphasis or initiative to enforce the regulation more vigorously, but if a violation is observed I fully expect NPS law enforcement staff to contact violators and enforce the rules via a verbal warning, written warning (we do NOT typically refer to it as a “warning ticket” as described in your message), or a violation notice (AKA a citation), using whichever approach is determined by the ranger to be the most effective level of law enforcement based on the circumstances).
I can also imagine that it is unusual for law enforcement officers to actually catch someone in the act of feeding wildlife and therefore it may be perceived as less frequently enforced then, say, dogs off leash. However, the frequency (or infrequency) of enforcement does not excuse the violation.
Murray is correct that the law is the law and should be enforced.
However, as far as I can tell, the only ?designated? fish cleaning facility on Hatteras or Ocracoke is at Ramp 44 near Cape Point.
And is it legal to clean your fish on the beach if you bag the scraps and properly dispose of them. That seems rather murky.
Given the unprecedented and widespread closures of popular beaches and the resulting economic suffering on the island (See my previous blog on ?Buxton takes a beating.), anti-Park Service feelings are widespread among islanders and many visitors.
It would seem that Park Service law enforcement rangers might be more islander and visitor friendly.
Why did this local cleaning his fish need to get a written warning?
Why couldn?t the ranger have stopped by ? while he was cleaning the fish and not after ? and educated him about the regulations?
A little more friendliness and a lot less enforcement would certainly not hurt ? and may help ? the perceptions that locals and visitors have about the Park Service on Hatteras and Ocracoke.