Bertie opposes flounder reductions

Published 8:12 am Thursday, May 21, 2015

COLERAIN – Bertie County has joined with several other coastal and Albemarle Sound counties in drafting a resolution asking the state Marine Fisheries Commission to not support the NC Division of Marine Fisheries use of the supplement process to implement reductions of southern flounder populations.

Terry Pratt, a local fisherman, brought similar resolutions drafted by other counties and presented them before the county’s Board of Commissioners during public comments at their monthly meeting at the Colerain Volunteer Fire Department here Monday night.

Pratt said he will deliver the resolution to the Marine Fisheries Commission (MFC) meeting in New Bern May 20-22, but with just three days left, he was operating under a very strict deadline.

The commission is scheduled to consider options for managing the southern flounder fishery, and would affect such fishery in the Albemarle Sound.

At its February meeting, the commission voted to pursue a supplement to the N.C. Southern Flounder Fishery Management Plan to reduce the catch of southern flounder by between 25 percent and 60 percent. A supplement will allow the commission to adopt temporary management measures without going through the full fishery management plan process.

“The supplement process is essentially an emergency action which requires Secretary (NC Department of Environmental and  Natural Resources Don) van der Vaart obtain an authorization since it bypasses the built-in checks and balances the amendment process dictates,” said Pratt. “Southern flounder fishing is too valuable and regionally diverse to not follow the amendment process that mandates regional input and the ample opportunity for public comment.”

The Commission’s action followed a report on a draft 2014 N.C. Southern Flounder Stock Assessment which the Fisheries Division decided could not be used to determine stock status and did not consider recent studies showing that the North Carolina stock of southern flounder mixes with stocks in other South Atlantic states.

“There’s no evidence of a need for emergency action,” Pratt maintains. “Mortality (among the fish) is not increasing and the abundance shows no trend of decreasing through regulation.”

Once the draft supplement is presented, the MFC has three options: to include rejecting the supplement as the county resolutions support thus ending the process.  However, they might also approve the supplement as presented and open it to public comment, or modify the supplement and approve the modified version for public comment.

Pratt says fishermen feel these concerns can only be addressed with a regional stock assessment that includes data from other states in addition to North Carolina. However, the North Carolina data show years of decline in the number of young fish entering into the stock and abundance, which is evidence of the need for further management measures.

“All the data the Division has that was put out for peer review has been sent back with a note on it that it was unfit for management purposes,” Pratt told the Commissioners. “There is not a problem with (flounder), there’s no need to reduce the harvest.”

If the commission decides to go forward with a draft supplement, a public comment period will be held prior to the Commission’s next quarterly meeting Aug. 19-21 in Raleigh when it will select management measures to be implemented for this fall.

Pratt says he prefers an amendment process which might take several years.

“You bring in fishermen, you bring in scientists, you bring in commissioners and you look at it and see what the best option is,” he remarked. “Then you look at all the data you’re working on and verify it to make sure it’s valid.”

Pratt then asked the Commissioners to adopt a similar resolution to the one the other counties (Carteret, Pasquotank, Perquimans, Hyde, Dare, Currituck, and Tyrell) had written.”

“If you can act on it, I can hand deliver it,” Pratt promised.

Chairman Ronald D. “Ron” Wesson said he would share it with the other Commissioners, ask for their direction and if approved would have it to Pratt before the deadline.  The Board then continued with its monthly agenda.

Near the end of the meeting, County Manager Scott Sauer requested because of the Commissioner’s impending workload, and since they had heard the presentation, that they vote to draft the county’s resolution of non-support that evening.

“He (Pratt) tends to be our expert and the Board looks to him for leadership on these types of programs,” Sauer said.

Commissioner Ernestine “Byrd” Bazemore made a motion to draft the resolution and that the chairman signs it.  The motion was seconded by Commissioner Stewart White and it passed unanimously.