Marine regulators ‘fishing’ for public comment on new rules

Published 11:27 am Monday, January 16, 2017

By Stephanie Carson
NC News Service

NEW BERN – Wildlife advocates say the state’s fish population is in jeopardy because some species are getting caught up – literally – in the shrimp industry.

It’s known as bycatch, and the North Carolina Wildlife Federation (NCWF) has filed a request to expand nursery habitat areas in the state to protect juvenile fish.

David Knight, a policy consultant with the group, explains why the NCWF is asking the state to change the rules for how bycatch is handled in North Carolina.

“What we want to do is help the commercial fishing industry as a whole, and reducing bycatch, you will be creating more fish once they become adults for the rest of the industry to catch, as well as for the recreational folks,” he points out.

North Carolina is the only state to allow shrimp trawling in its nursery and estuary waters on the Atlantic coast.

The Marine Fisheries Commission Advisory Committee will meet in New Bern on Tuesday, Jan. 17 at 12:30 p.m. at the New Bern Convention Center. Members of the public are invited to voice their concerns in advance, or at the meeting itself.

Bycatch often includes commercially and recreationally valuable fish, including Atlantic croaker, spot and weakfish.

Knight says public feedback will matter at this meeting.

“These commissioners get all of these comments, they get the written comments, there’s a summary made of all the oral comments and history tells me that these commissioners do go through these comments, they do listen to them, they do read them,” he explains.

It is estimated that for every pound of shrimp caught in North Carolina waters, four pounds of fish – mostly juvenile fish – and other organisms are caught in shrimp trawls and discarded as bycatch.

Tens of millions of fish are killed and tossed by shrimp trawlers each year.