Fisheries Management: Process vs. Wants

Rules governing small mesh gill nets should only be changed thru the Fishery Management Process, also known as an FMP.

By Easton Edwards

EASTERN NC – The North Carolina Marine Fisheries Commission – the nine-member governing board for the state’s Division of Marine Fisheries – held its quarterly meeting Thursday, Aug 26 – still ‘virtual’ due to Covid.

Small mesh gill nets were discussed, which could lead to further restrictions on gill net use in North Carolina waters. The Division was tasked to bring suggested changes, that could be used as needed, to change various rules pertaining to gill nets. 

The pressure being applied for this was obvious! Special interest groups simply WANT (and I highlight WANT) to rid the North Carolina waters of any net, regardless of its viable use to fish, or its right to be there. These groups WANT it gone. 

Here is where the problem comes in. No group – commercial or recreational – has the right to eliminate any gear, fishing availability to the area, or the right to fish. PERIOD. This is managed by the state, specifically by the Division of Marine Fisheries, through PROCESS set up by the NC Fisheries Reform Act of 1997. 

This Act established Fishery Management Processes for each species. Known as FMP’s, they are designed to manage each fishery for sustainability, while keeping economic viability in mind.

The discussion on further restrictions for gill nets was a result of pressure and WANTS from special interest groups that simply desire for there to be no nets of any kind in NC waters.

They can write about it, be armchair biologists on it, scream about it, or whatever. The bottom line is that they WANT nets gone. Process, hardship to families, rights of NC citizens to purchase seafood, and simple morality has no bearing whatsoever on these groups and the people they represent. 

The day’s presentation and its options were about rules and changes that affect every area and fishery, regardless of need from a stock status standpoint, or any credible information that concerned a species specific. 

It was more of a blanket way to restrict gill nets period, which is not only wrong in principle, but also wrong by statute. There must be a reason – other than a special interest WANT, to look at putting any rule or restriction on a fishery for either side, commercial or recreational. 

In the meeting, it was discussed that there is no ‘blanket’ way to manage fishing for every species. Each species is unique in its gear, season, weather issues, and time constraints that affect the way each species is fished. In this logical and common-sense conclusion, it only makes sense that each species be looked at independently for any further gill net restrictions, should they be needed. This is EXACTLY what the FMP process is designed to do. 

As each species schedule comes due for review, everything that is associated with that species is reviewed for needed changes. At the meeting, the motion was made and passed that any gill net rules should be reviewed and changed (if needed) through the FMP process on each species as they come due for review. 

This is the only logical, common-sense move that should  have been considered from the start. That is what the FMP process is designed to do. 

The special interest groups have immediately decried this as “Status Quo,” which is wrong again. Status quo would leave it non-existent in process. The discussion, and resulting motion, made certain that in each FMP on each species the gill net would be looked at. If in the future, there is a stock status reason for more restrictions then the process will show these. If there is not a stock status reason, some data could show a problem – something other than simply a WANT by groups or individuals that hate a gill net. 

People who simply WANT to change rules and regulations without reason, data, or process that make these changes legally and correctly should stop and look hard at their reasons. Rules that affect people’s livelihoods, their families, homes and kids’ futures should not be done on a WANT basis. 

They should be made from a correct, data driven process, using the most recent data available. Not data over 10 years old, but recent data, that allows for timely decisions. If the data is not there, the decisions will have to wait until the data is there. This is not “Status Quo” or stalling. You cannot make rule changes that affect people’s lives without correct, data driven, due process – no matter how long it takes. 

I hope one that day that both sides – commercial and recreational – can work to make our fisheries flourish! But, until one stops constantly trying to deprive the other of its right to work and provide for their families, there will always be a rift.