Great Debate: Part 1

Be Careful What You Wish For

By Easton Edwards

Editor’s note: Mr. Edwards is a regular contributor to this newspaper. We welcome his independent analysis of the complex and controversial debate involving commercial and recreational fishing in North Carolina. 

NEW BERN – I attended the North Carolina Marine Fisheries Commission on Feb. 23-25. The first evening was public comment. The majority of the speakers were members of the Coastal Conservation Association (guides and individuals), who basically repeated the same script that was obviously authored by someone else – and read over and over. 

There were two instances where the individuals were loud, rude, and obnoxious.  One individual directed accusations and insults against commission members and the other directed them at the director of the Coastal Conservation Association. Both of these individuals were wrong in their approach on comments and should have been silenced by the chairman quicker than they actually were.  

The first action item that came before the Commission on Thursday morning was Amendment 2 to the Estuarine Striped Bass Fisheries Management Plan (FMP). There was much discussion on this topic with most of the comments coming from recreational representatives opposed to reopening of large mesh gill nets above the Ferry lines.

They cited a small shad industry catch as the reason for not opening (but that was not the real reason). The real reason became very apparent during subsequent discussions on southern flounder, which I will cover later. 

The overwhelming elephant in the room on the striped bass issue was the enormous number of overages that the recreational sector had caught – 147,000 lbs –  in the Roanoke zone. This will lead to a much shorter season in that area this year due to paybacks that have to be accounted for. There was discussion on the nets above the Ferry lines, which led to a motion that kept the current regulations in place and did not allow these nets back above the ferry line. It should be noted that both Commissioners in the ‘At Large seats’  voted to keep the current regulations.  

The recreational community will neither understand this, nor in any way feel, they should be held responsible for these overages! 

If the commercial fishing industry went over their quota by that much it would be ARMAGEDDON in the eyes of these same fishermen.  The fact is that when the Fishery Reform Act was amended in 2010, measures to end over-fishing and rebuild the stocks in a certain time frame were implemented that force the Division and Wildlife to consider paybacks and drastic cuts in quotas that would meet the criteria of these changes. 

These amendments were authored and heavily backed by the Coastal Conservation Association and other special interests. Little did they believe that they, THEMSELVES,  would be in the bullseye down the road on species they heavily fish, or should I say OVERFISH?  


The second action item was Amendment Three to the Southern Flounder Fisheries Management Plan.  After the presentation from the Division, discussion was started and immediately there was a motion (from a commissioner representing recreational interests) to ban ALL LARGE MESH GILL NETS. 

This falls in line with EVERY FISHERIES MANAGEMENT PLAN that the Division presents! No matter what the science says or common-sense dictates, the immediate battle cry from the recreational sector is “BAN THE NETS.”  The argument of bycatch and indiscriminate harvest is always their logic. So, let’s take a look at that data:

This data is straight out of the Division’s actual landing numbers.  It CLEARLY shows two things: 

(1) The recreational sector is overfishing the TAL(Total Allowable Landings) set forth by the Division at an alarming and absolutely irresponsible pace.

(2) It shows a complete lack of intent to ever abide by the Quota set forth as mandated by the very amendments they set forth in the 2010 Fishery Reform Act amendments.

The commercial fishing sector, while over-fishing slightly, has achieved the 52% reduction mandated by the plan to end over-fishing and restore the stock. If the commercial sector stays in compliance with this plan, they will have completed their part of the process to allow the stock to rebound and flourish.

The cry now from the recreational community is they don’t believe the data that is used to set the guidelines for this process. The recreational community has a statistical data system known as Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP) that estimates recreational removals through surveys at the landing docks, and online.

I hear from my fellow anglers: “I have never been interviewed or checked at a ramp for what I caught.”   That, in itself is scary.  It would lead one to think that the MRIP data may even be low on reported catch.  

On the other hand, the commercial sector is strictly governed by a trip ticket system that mandates every trip be recorded in a MANDATORY trip ticket system that updates to the division daily or weekly.  

Now I’m not going to accuse anything either way, but you ask me (as a recreational angler)  “How many fish did you catch?”  A typical response might be: “Well, a few of these and none of those.”

While, the commercial fisherman gets paid for what is on his trip ticket!  So it is more than likely to be very accurate data! 

Next week, in addition to other points, I will address ‘wail’ from the recreational sector, about the quota of flounder they are allowed to capture. There are good reasons why the split has always been a traditional 80% for commercial, 20% for recreational.