Once again, I am writing about our Commercial Fishermen here in Carteret County and the whole coastal area of North Carolina. This week there is to be a vote by the N.C. Marine Fisheries
Commission for a proposed Amendment 2 of the Southern Flounder Fishery Management Plan (FMP). The proposed
Amendment 2 recommends a 62% reduction in fishing mortality the first year which includes this fall, 2019 and a 72% reduction the next year (2020). This Amendment will be detrimental to all of our Summer Flounder fishermen. I wrote a letter in June to Michael Reagan, Secretary DEQ and to the following Senators and State Representatives for these are the folks who will vote for this new Amendment. Representative Pat McElraft, Representative Jimmy Dixon, Senator Norm Sanderson, Senator Toby Finch, Representative Kyle Hall, Representative Chuck McGrady, Senator Stephen Ross and Senator Andy Wells. Part of my letter is quoted below.
“I work with many farmers in Eastern NC but I live amongst the commercial fishermen here in Carteret County. I am constantly comparing our farmers and commercial fishermen all the time with their hard work and the plights against them. This amendment is seeking to cut 62% then next year 72% of the amount of flounder these fishermen can catch. Can you imagine a law that was presented to a local farmer telling them that they could not grow 62% of one of their main cash crops? Could you imagine getting a phone call tomorrow morning telling you that your salary has been cut by 62% and it will be cut by 72% by next year.
I do not know any farmer nor commercial fishermen that wants to destroy our soils nor our fish…. but to tell a hard-working tax paying individual that they have to lose 62% of their income is unjust!”
Unfortunately, the difference between a commercial fisherman and a farmer is that the US government will sometimes subsidize a farmer for loss of income on a crop (i.e. tobacco) but not the fishermen.
The Carteret County Marine Fisheries Advisory Board and Mark Mansfield Chairman of the Carteret County Commissioners sent a letter to the above-mentioned stating that they opposed Amendment 2. What this group asked for was a 31% reduction in the” overfishing threshold”. “They also asked for new stock assessment be performed as quickly as possible (within 2 years) to examine the population responses or other factors are more at play than fishing mortality.”
Pamlico County Commissioners have also asked for a similar request.
What I want to do is possibly explain to others the many factors that exist today that may contribute to the loss of our fish stock. Unfortunately, the commercial fishermen get the blame over and over. The facts and figures that I will use in this article are hard numbers that anyone can find through the NC Wildlife Commission, The NC Marine Fisheries website and the North Carolina Sea Turtle Project.
Item 1: Active Registered Fishing vessels in the state of NC
Recreational Vessels: 324,441
Commercial Vessels: 4,610
Over 658 Commercial vessels registered are from inland counties: For example; Wake Co. 22, Pitt County 65, Sampson County 24, Duplin County 27 and Lenoir County 35, Guilford County (Greensboro) has 13 commercial registered vessels.
This is a personal assumption but I know fishermen who live and work full time jobs during the week inland and come down to the coast to fish on the weekend and then sell their fish but these catches are included into the commercial yearly catch numbers. Also, consider how many fish 324,441 boats land fish out of our NC Coastal waters. Of course, sometimes they go out and do not catch anything but most of the time they do. And, most boats will have two or more fishermen and if they all catch fish just for instance; 4 fishermen catch 4 fish each = 16 fish times 324,441 = 5, 191,056 fish.
Where I live, it is nothing to hear air boats head out into the Sound at 1AM or 2AM in the morning…I have seen some of these boats and the owner bragging how they caught 500 pounds of flounder and seeing all the blood in the boat, I have to believe them. Yes, the NC Marine Patrol does a great job, but there is no way for them to monitor the whole coast line of NC with all the private docks and boat ramps on people’s private properties. According to the 2018 Annual Fisheries Bulletin Commercial and Recreational Statistics published by the NC Division of Marine Fisheries, 21 species are dominated by Recreational fishermen. Nine out of the top ten species listed (pounds caught) averaged an 821% total capture greater than commercial fishing. You can go back and look at the years in the past and the recreational catch on some of these species are anywhere from 700%, 600% 500% more than the commercial fishing catch. If you go to the NC Marines Fisheries website and look for the different species you will find that the three of the most overfished species is not from the commercial fisherman but from the recreational fishermen. For instance, Speckled Trout: 2018 the Recreational catch 658,555 pounds and the Commercial fishermen catch was 128,922 pounds. In 2017 the Recreational catch of Speckled Trout was 2,157,198 and the Commercial catch was 299,911 pounds. In 2018 the Red Drum Recreational catch was 1,451,358 and the Commercial catch was 144,464. In 2018 the Recreational catch of Spots was 597,511 and the Commercial Catch was 167,675 pounds. The nine species that is overfished by Recreational fishermen are; Speckled Trout, Red Drum, Dolphin, Spot, Yellowfin Tuna, Bluefish, Cobia, Spanish Mackerel and King Mackerel. “But the Commercial Fisherman is blamed for catching all the fish!”
Item 2: Active Recreational and Commercial Fishing Licenses
According to the NC Marine Fisheries 2018 License-Statistics Annual Report there are 469,571 salt water Recreational fishing license issued to NC fishermen. The 2018 Commercial license count is 7,413. Please note that some recreational fishermen also own commercial fishing license too and vice versa. Also, these numbers do not include lifetime fishing licenses. Again, the NC Marine Patrol does an excellent job but they do not have the money nor the man power to check almost half million recreational fishermen in NC and their catch. Whereas the Commercial fishermen when they sell their catch to a licensed Dealer, the Dealer completes a trip ticket recording the catch, species and pounds and the trip ticket is sent to the Marine Fisheries for records and statistics. Once again, there are no true records as to how much the recreational fishermen catch. The Marine Fisheries sends out a paper survey to recreational fishermen to complete and send back about their catches but I for one who has had these surveys and a lot of other people do not complete them. I cannot prove this number but as the true number of Salt Water Recreational Fishing license (469,571) the Marine Fisheries may interview approximately 20,000 Salt water fishermen plus the surveys each year…There is no proven way at this time how many fish that the Salt Water Recreational Fishermen catch…”But the Commercial Fishermen is blamed for catching all of the fish”!
Item 3: Sea Turtles
I cannot tell you how many times that I have heard how the Commercial Fishermen “kill Sea Turtles” …By law the Commercial Fishermen have had to change many times over the years their nets and other ways of catching fish so that they would not injure nor kill a turtle. I saw a video a few years ago with 4 or 5 Commercial Fishermen working hard to remove a Sea Turtle from a net, the turtle was eating their fish but these men, worked hard to push, pull and roll a huge turtle back into the Sound…
This year the 2019 nesting statistics show a record breaking 2298 Sea Turtle nests on the coast of NC. In 2018 799 nests, in 2017 1223 nests and in 2016 1650 nests. This is fabulous news and it
proves that the Commercial Fishermen are working hard to help these numbers rise each year.
What do all these numbers and information have to do with you, the consumer of NC fresh seafood? We need our Commercial Fishermen to catch seafood so that we who do not own boats can enjoy the fresh seafood that these hard-working men and women bring to our tables. We need desperately like so many other factors in our lives today not to be governed and bought by special interest groups. There are special interest groups always fighting against the Commercial Fishermen but numbers do not lie!
So, I urge you to contact the elected officials mentioned in the beginning of this article, contact the NC Marine Fisheries and the NC Wildlife Commission, The NC Commercial Fishermen need you help.
I was telling a recreational fisherman recently about this article that I am writing today. His comment has stuck in mind every day since, “The last fish will never be caught by a Commercial Fishermen.”
Ruth King is a writer living in Carteret County and serves on an advisory board of the N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission.