The N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission (MFC) voted 6-3 on Friday morning to adopt the Draft Amendment 2 to the Southern Flounder Fishery Management Plan, with three additional amendments made to the current draft that were voted on in separate motions.
An amendment to the current Draft Amendment 2 was passed in a 9-0 vote to allow for seasonal flexibility to be determined by Proclamation by the Director of Marine Fisheries, for both commercial and recreational user groups.
After the Draft Amendment 2 passed, another amendment to allow for four flounders per vessel per day outside of the prescriptive recreational season, (or May 1 through November 1), also passed in a 5 to 2 vote with 2 abstentions.
An additional motion to ask the Division of Marine Fisheries Director to consider exceptions to the 15A section of the amendment, which addresses existing flounder pound net sets, was also passed, with 7 commissioners in favor and 2 abstentions.
The MFC voted in June to accept the recommendations of the Division of Marine Fisheries in their entirety as its preferred management options for Draft Amendment 2 to the Southern Flounder Fishery Management Plan. Friday’s vote represents the final approval and implementation of Draft Amendment 2.
The Draft Amendment 2 calls for a 62% reduction in southern flounder harvest (compared to 2017) in North Carolina in 2019, and a 72% reduction in harvest beginning in 2020 to be achieved through commercial and recreational season closures. The measures also call for yardage and time restrictions for gill nets, and prohibiting the use of puncturing devices, such as gaffs, in the pound net fishery.
Opponents to the Draft Amendment 2 at Friday’s meeting noted the rushed nature of the measure, the need for cooperation from other states for the measure to be a success, and the potential human impact.
“When we put this thing into motion, the biggest issues I had are basically how it got fast-tracked,” said Commissioner Doug Cross. “We didn’t have time to present or gather other options to include in the Division’s recommendation… As we move forward, that’s a huge concern.”
“The largest loser in this is our user groups,” continued Cross. “I think there is a huge misunderstanding in the general public… of how this is going to be regulated… There should be more consideration put into the human factor on both sides – commercial and recreational. I wish there was a way we could lessen the burden to get a better gain for all the user groups, and all of the [affected parties] on both sides.”
“I wish we had coordinated a little more on management options that made more sense, because this just doesn’t make any sense to me,” said Commissioner Mike Blanton. “I had many conversations, both recreational and commercial, and I don’t see many people [agreeing] with this.”
Blanton also pointed out that North Carolina would be the first of the coastal states to implement such a measure, and other states’ cooperation would be required to make any sort of impact on the southern flounder supply. “This is null and void unless these other states start at the same time that we do,” he said. “Right now, we have a single state regulatory measure…. We’re trying to take care of our stock, and hoping other states will jump on board because of this action.”
Commissioner Sam Romano asked Director Stephen Murphey about the participation of other coastal states. “How are they feeling about what we are doing here?”
“I think they are waiting to hear what happens today,” said Murphey. “[We] have a meeting next week, and we have asked them to come to the table… I think they want to see what you guys are going to do. We are the only state that has a mandatory requirement to take action when [there is] overfishing.”
Prior to the vote on Draft Amendment 2, Commissioner Doug Cross made a failed motion to postpone the final approval vote to the November 2019 MFC meeting, adopt a 52% reduction at that time, and to instruct the Marine Fisheries Director to consult with other states to get a definitive plan of action. Seconded by Commissioner Sam Romano, the motion failed with 3 in favor and 6 opposed.
“I am disappointed in the outcome of the adoption, although I did hear from most of the commission [that] they are concerned with the ‘human needs’ and economic burden of the families of the fishery, and that N.C. cannot replenish stocks alone – other states have to commit as well,” said Dare County Commissioner and Working Watermen Committee Chair, Steve House, who attended the MFC meeting on Wednesday and Thursday. “I believe after talking with Director Steve Murphey and some [MFC] Commissioners, the economic aspects of our community in fishing will be looked at in more depth in the future.”
“As research has now begun for Amendment 3, we need to work with the NCDMF to be more proactive in the process and not reactive,” said House.
Per Director Murphey, now that the amendment has passed, a Proclamation will likely be made August 27-28, with an estimated implementation and closure date of September 4 or 5.
The management measures will stay in place until adoption and implementation of Amendment 3 to the Southern Flounder Fishery Management Plan, which is scheduled for completion in 2021.