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Bertie leaders table herring proposal

WINDSOR – The questions posed by the Bertie County Board of Commissioners in regards to a proposed moratorium on river herring may be answered on Monday morning.

During their meeting earlier this week, the Bertie Commissioners were presented with a resolution, ready for their approval, that opposes the moratorium. However, the county leaders balked at the proposal, instead opting to hear what they referred to as "the other side of the story."

Over the past several months, Bertie native Terry Pratt has, on several occasions, addressed the Bertie board concerning the proposed moratorium. Pratt, a commercial fisherman, said the proposal, one that would ban all herring fishing throughout North Carolina for 16 years, was based on flawed data received by the North Carolina Division Fisheries.

Pratt further claimed that the moratorium would not only affect fishermen, merchants and consumers, but the culture of eastern North Carolina.

Up until Hurricane Isabel in 2003, Bertie County was the home of Perry-Wynns Fishery, the world's largest wholesaler of river herring. The storm leveled the business, located on the shore of the Chowan River at Colerain. The Chowan River and its tributaries are a popular breeding ground for these tasty fish.

While Bertie's Commissioners are aware of the county's past history with the herring industry, they agreed during Tuesday's meeting to table the resolution in order to gain more information.

The answers they are seeking from the other side of the issue may come at 10 a.m. on Monday where the fate of North Carolina’s river herring fishery will be discussed at a meeting at the Bob Martin Agriculture Center in Williamston.

At this meeting, the N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission and an advisory committee charged with updating the state’s River Herring Fishery Management Plan will discuss a recent stock assessment showing river herring are in serious trouble.

The focus of the meeting will be whether the commission should take immediate steps to close the fishery or let the issue work its way through the fishery management plan process.

Fishery management plans were mandated by the state’s 1997 Fisheries Reform Act to set long-term strategies to effectively manage each of North Carolina’s economically significant fisheries.

Once the initial plans are completed they are reviewed every five years.

The River Herring Fishery Management Plan Advisory Committee, composed of commercial and recreational fishermen, scientists, and environmentalist, began meeting in April 2005 to review the existing plan and make proposals to address new issues and concerns related to the herring fishery. The committee is scheduled to complete the update in late 2006.

Meanwhile, the boards of commissioners in the counties of Hertford, Chowan and Martin have approved resolutions opposing the proposed moratorium.