The whole truth

Published 9:25 am Thursday, May 28, 2015

To the Editor:

While Bertie County Commissioners resolved to ask the NC Marine Fisheries Commission (MFC) to not curb southern flounder harvest, the Commissioners of Pitt, Lenoir, Wayne, Johnston, and Alamance were asking the MFC for a harvest reduction.  So did the towns of Wallace, Rose Hill, Warsaw, and Walnut Creek.  Why the difference?

Accurate information may be one of the answers.  As a native of Bertie County, and now a long time resident of Wayne, I found the disparity intriguing.

Were the Bertie Commissioners told that the southern flounder in NC is considered a “depleted stock”?  North Carolina has classified them either “overfished” or “depleted” for the last decade.  Why would Bertie County commissioners want to keep harvesting at current levels on a stock that is so low it is having a hard time replenishing itself?

Were the Bertie County Commissioners told that 96% of all the southern flounder that enter US commercial markets come from NC’s waters according to the National Marine Fisheries service, mostly because NC is the only state that allows a net based commercial fishery for them?  In other southern flounder producing states the stock is reserved primarily for personal consumption fishermen.

Were the Bertie County Commissioners told Division of Marine Fisheries statistics show that 77.8% of all the southern flounder harvested in NC were done so by commercial fishermen while the other 22.2% go to the recreational fishermen?

Were the Bertie County Commissioners told that in 2013 there were only 19 citizens of Bertie County that owned a commercial fishing license, and only 6 of them used their license to sell any fish at all?  Meanwhile, 3,980 other Bertie County citizens bought a license to fish in salt water for recreational or personal consumption reasons. If state averages held true, those 6 commercial fishermen harvested 77.8% of all the southern flounder that residents of Bertie harvested. They did so with nets, while the other 3,980 Bertie residents who fished recreationally were forced to split that other 22.2%.  The Bertie vote gave preferential treatment to the 6 over the 3,980, and completely turned its back on the biological needs of the fish themselves.

Thankfully last week, the NC MFC ignored Bertie County commissioners by a vote of 6-2 when they voted to curb harvest on southern flounder and restore the stocks.  They have put several options on the table for public comment BUT NONE OF THEM INCLUDE A REDUCTION ON RECREATIONAL FISHERMEN’S LIMITS.  There is even one option on the table that will now go to public comment that includes the removal of all large mesh gillnets in NC’s estuarine waters leaving flounder harvest to the much cleaner gear of pound nets and gigs. The MFC will cast a final vote at their August meeting in Raleigh after the public has a chance to comment on the options available.

So why did Bertie County Commissioners vote the way they did?  The News-Herald article showed it was one of the 6 who sold flounder for a profit that asked the Commissioners to vote for no cuts, so the answer may be obvious.

It is time NC’s estuarine fisheries are returned to the average person and not be allocated to the point of depletion to those who fish commercially. Thankfully, the MFC is beginning to do just that. Perhaps with a little more information the Bertie County Board of Commissioners will see that too in the future.

L. Ray Brown, Jr.