Massive closures loom | Shrimp Fleet in jeopardy

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Through no fault of its own, this tasty crustacean generates plenty of invective!

By Easton Edwards & Jeff Aydelette

EMERALD ISLE – The culprit is Amendment 2 to North Carolina’s Shrimp Fishery Management Plan, which contains proposed closures to areas now worked by the state’s shrimp fleet. The nine-member Marine Fisheries Commission meets Nov. 17, 18, & 19 at the Islander Motel to consider the measure. 

These changes, if approved by a majority vote of the board, will close the: ENTIRE WESTERN SIDE OF PAMLICO SOUND, INCLUDING NEUSE RIVER, BAY RIVER, PAMLICO RIVER, WEST BAY, TURNAGAIN BAY, ADAMS CREEK AND ALL TRIBUTARIES LOCATED ADJACENT TO THE AFOREMENTIONED AREAS. IT WILL ALSO CLOSE AREAS NORTH AROUND NAGS HEAD / MANTEO, MOST OF CORE SOUND, AND ALL OF THE SOUNDS AND TRIBUTARIES THAT RUN SOUTH TOWARD WILMINGTON.

The best – and perhaps the only – way to derail this regulatory freight train is for a staggering number of people to show up for a public comment period at the Islander Motel, which begins at 6pm on Wednesday, Nov. 17. Show up early and have your three minute argument AGAINST CLOSURES honed to the nth degree!

Let’s look at the true issues that are forcing this decision from the NC Division of Marine Fisheries:

#1) Political pressure from the North Carolina Wildlife Federation (NCWF) and Coastal Conservation Association (CCA) and other special interest groups are looking to systematically eliminate trawling in our state – PERIOD! These organizations have no real care for anyone except the constituents they represent, which are the affluent and well-to-do individuals who have their $70K (or more) boats and want to fish everywhere without any interference from a commercial trawler or a gill net boat. They want all the fish to themselves and that is it.  It is that simple. 

The funding from these people allows these organizations to exert extreme political pressure on the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries (NCDMF).  This type of Fisheries Management Plan comes from that pressure. The division itself acknowledges a lack of data that proves or disproves that bycatch is harming any of the species in the shrimp trawling.  It also acknowledges there is any data that proves that bottom disturbance has a positive or negative effect in many areas that are currently trawled.  The two most important pieces of data that need to be quantified one way or the other cannot be.  This leaves the obvious threat from these groups as the ONLY reason to consider any changes in the Shrimp Management Process.

#2 The question of by-catch, which occurs in any fishery — commercial and recreational.  If you are fishing for a trout and you catch a flounder, THAT IS BY-CATCH.  The same as fishing for spots and catching a croaker. THAT IS BY-CATCH.  In shrimping, anything other than a shrimp caught in the net can be by-catch. This is something that every shrimper wishes there were absolutely none of.  

The Division of Marine Fisheries implemented rules that each shrimp net must now contain BRD’s (bycatch reduction devices) that reduce bycatch from a non-equipped shrimp net by a minimum of 40 percent.  Over years of testing and cooperation between the Division and the shrimp industry, these devices have been implemented in each net and have seen reductions of well over 40 percent (in some cases 57 percent) between nets with BRD’s and those without.  These devices are now law and each shrimp net over a certain length must be equipped with these devices.  The industry continues to look at ways to further reduce by-catch in the hopes that it is one day eliminated. Bycatch studies have yet to determine whether species are being harmed from a total species biomass or not. 

There is no existing data that can prove a spot, croaker, or finfish — from a total bio-mass position — is being damaged whatsoever from shrimp trawling.  

There are facts and studies that do show trawling HAS NOT AFFECTED these species. Weakfish assessments from 2002 to present have resulted in the following findings:

  1. 2002 (Kahn)  “There is not much evidence for overfishing, something other than fishing mortality was causing the decline in the stock.”
  2. 2016 (ASMFC)  “Natural mortality had risen to levels that were preventing the stock from recovering”

No overfishing & no by-catch! These studies show that NATURAL ISSUES are causing a lack of recovery.

Atlantic Croaker:  Studies did show that by-catch could cause a 5 percent drop in population, but also showed that the BRD’s currently in use would make up for that mortality and more. It has also been assumed that area closures were the answer to all issues when related to trawling.  After a two-year closure in some South Carolina bays and ocean waters, the following results were documented:

  1. Very few spotted seatrout and red drum were caught by trawling in the sounds and bays of South Carolina.
  2. No evidence existed that trawling in the sounds or along the ocean beaches caused any long-term decreases in finfish populations.
  3. It was concluded that shrimp and fish stocks have not been negatively affected from a biological standpoint by commercial shrimp trawling.

So, you ask yourself, “Why are ANY of these changes even being considered with lack of data that can be quantified on by-catch, along with conclusions like these from SC?

The answer is blatantly glaring and simple.  Political pressure from the recreational groups that would close all commercial fishing activities forever.

There is NO data at this time that warrants any of the changes put forth in this plan. It is nothing more than a means to calm the people who would push to eliminate a $300 million-plus industry, and to put out of business the very people who supply the consumers of North Carolina with the best local seafood in the United States.  The have no care whatsoever for the producer or the consumer! They want to eliminate this sector of citizens,  and do not care how they do it.

The time has come to stand our ground and say enough is enough.  If you wish to help the shrimp industry hold onto what they have left, you must attend the public comment sector of this meeting. 

WEDNESDAY NOVEMBER 17TH AT THE ISLANDER HOTEL, ENERALD ISLE, NC.  SIGNUP BEGINS AT 4:30. PUBLIC COMMENT STARTS AT 6 PM UNTIL. 

If it means leaving work early, getting a babysitter, calling others to travel with, DO IT!!  THE VERY SURVIVAL OF THE SHRIMP INDUSTRY, ESPECIALLY THE SMALL BOAT INDUSTRY IS AT STAKE AND WILL BE ELIMINATED IF THIS PLAN GOES THROUGH AS CURRENTLY WRITTEN!  

A coordinated, united front must be presented to show the Commission that this proposal is wrong and will eliminate thousands of fishermen and related jobs. It will deny consumers their right to purchase domestic North Carolina shrimp. Each of us, every individual, in Eastern North Carolina, who love seafood will be affected by this for the rest of our lives. DO NOT ALLOW THIS TO HAPPEN! 

Show up and bring everyone with you who agrees that the waters are not just for the rich and affluent — they are for every citizen. This is no more illustrated than by the recreational shrimpers to be affected ALL RECREATIONAL SHRIMPING IN THE WESTERN PAMLICO SOUND WILL BE CLOSED IF THIS PLAN IS PASSED. 

No one will ever again catch their own shrimp for their freezer. You will be shut down. This is not right!  The men and women who fish recreationally for their shrimp are no different from the people who speckled trout fish or flounder fish. They just do their recreation in a different manner using different gear. Oh, and they do not have $70k-plus to spend on their shrimp boat.

When it comes to morality, the so-called conservation groups have completely abandoned theirs.  Anyone who would conceive a campaign to eliminate a fishery — WITHOUT CONCLUSIVE, PROVEN, AND PEER REVIEWED FACTS –  should be held accountable for any interference they cause producers, processors, and consumers.

They should be held liable, both morally and economically, for unwarranted interference and intentional disruptions of business and supply, We have not seen that day yet, but that day is coming if they continue to push for changes such as in this shrimp plan that have no support from data whatsoever — just their opinions and wants to destroy a hard-working sector of men and women. 

 

I hope you agree. Please turnout on Nov. 17 to support these men and women who want to work in a time when many choose not to.