The North Carolina Marine Fisheries Commission will meet Feb. 18 in New Bern to discuss issues related to a proposed gill-net closure in coastal waters.

Public comments will be heard at the meeting, which is scheduled at 1 p.m. at the New Bern Riverfront Convention Center, 203 S. Front St., New Bern.

The proposed May 15-Dec. 15 closure apparently was prompted by a threatened lawsuit from the Duke Environmental Law & Policy Clinic on behalf of the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center. The Beasley Center claims gill nets have injured, maimed, and killed threatened and endangered sea turtles for many years and continue to do so.

The Duke Policy Clinic sent an October 2009 notice to the National Marine Fisheries Service, North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries and Marine Fisheries Commission of its intent to sue those agencies to remove gill nets from all state waters.

When the notice reached Roy Crabtree, the NMFS's Southeast Regional office director, he sent a letter to DMF Director Louis Daniel asking the state agency to devise a plan to reduce "interactions" with sea turtles.

In his response to Crabtree, Daniel said the DMF will propose the temporary closure of sections of Pamlico, Core and Back sounds and the Cape Fear River to large-mesh gill nets. However, in his letter, Daniel wrote areas exempted from the proposed closure had little or no historical interactions with sea turtles and small-mesh gill nets still would be allowed but must be attended during the closure period. Run-around and strike gill nets still would be permitted as well, as Daniel said they aren't a danger to sea turtles because of the way they're used.

A portion of Pamlico Sound has been open to large-mesh gill nets under a Section 10 permit that allows a quota of interactions with sea turtles. Daniel closed the Section 10 area last year for a short time after gill nets snared a mandated quota of turtles.

In a letter to Crabtree, Daniel announced a DMF proposal to set a temporary large-mesh gill-net closure, but the agency director also said North Carolina would work with NMFS to obtain a Section 10 permit for all state waters, not just a portion of Pamlico Sound. That apparently would mean more permitted trapped-by-gill-net turtles in the long run.

Daniel's letter to Crabtree said North Carollina plans to implement the temporary large-mesh gill net closure by proclamation at its March 24-25 meeting of the MFC at Kitty Hawk.