BY MICHELLE WAGNER
OUTER BANKS SENTINEL
The N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission voted 5 to 3 with one abstention on Thursday morning to approve a rulemaking petition that, under its proposed restrictions, would designate all coastal waters as nursery areas and put greater limits on shrimp trawling.
The Feb. 16 vote came during a commission meeting held in Wilmington and followed several hours of arguments both for and against the petition that was submitted last November by the N.C. Wildlife Federation.
The approval means the petition will move forward in the rulemaking process, but there are still a number of steps before the regulations are adopted — a process that could take at least a year.
The petition has been a hot button topic among some in the fishing industry who argue that the restrictions are too broad and would impact their livelihood, Petition advocates contend the proposed rules will go a long way in boosting a declining fishery populations by reducing by-catch, particularly of spot, weakfish and Atlantic croaker.
Commissioner Chuck Laughridge, voted to approve the measure at the Feb. 16 meeting. “If we don’t do something to protect this resource and its habitat, we are going to be supervising a hospice situation. This can push for us to make a move to do something positive for the state,” he said.
Conversely Commissioner Alison Willis, who voted against the petition, said it was extremely discouraging that the shrimp Fisheries Management Plan, put in place in January, hasn’t even had a chance to work, a plan she said carves the way for an additional 40 percent catch reduction. “This (petition) is a waste of the state’s resources, we’re beating a dead horse here,” she added.
Last month, the Dare County Board of Commissioners approved a resolution opposing the petition and warning that its adoption would “have a devastating impact on commercial fishing families by arbitrarily impairing their livelihood and depriving American tables of fresh, healthy catches of North Carolina harvested shrimp.”
The petition calls for all inshore waters and the ocean out to three miles to be designated as special secondary nursery areas. It also proposes limiting tow times to 45 minutes and trawling to three days per week in the estuarine waters and four in the ocean during daylight hours.
Also on the table is the reduction in allowable headrope lengths, along with the requirement of two by-catch reduction devices and additional size limits on spot and croaker.
The Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) must now develop an economic impact analysis as well as publish a notice of text in the N.C. Registry. Next, a public hearing would be held and then it would come back to the commission for consideration.
“This would take no less than one year,” commission legal counsel Phillip Reynolds estimated, adding that it would likely be sometime in May 2018 before it came back before the commission.
At that time, he said, the commission could make changes to the regulations, but any substantial changes would require the notice of text be republished. “If it turns out you’re changing an orange into an apple, then the process would start again.”
Reynolds also said that the DMF’s shrimp Fisheries Management Plan would also have to match any new rules that would be adopted.