The N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission voted today to accept the Petition for Rulemaking proposed by the N.C. Wildlife Federation last November to reduce by-catch from shrimp trawling in North Carolina’s coastal waters by designated inshore waters as nursery areas and restricting the kind of gear used by trawlers.

The Commission voted 5-3 for the petition during a meeting in Wilmington. Commissioners Mike Wicker, Rick Smith, Chuck Laughridge, Mark Gorges and Brad Koury voted in favor. Commissioners Alison Willis, Janet Rose and MFC chairman Sammy Corbett voting against. Commissioner Joe Shute of Atlantic Beach abstained from the vote.

The petition now moves to the rulemaking stage. If there are any significant changes, the process will have to begin anew. A Commission spokesman said the process was lengthy and changes are not likely to be implemented before 2018.

"We are pleased with the deliberation and final vote of the MFC which affords now a path forward for positive resource conservation. This science-based and data-driven approach will ensure that more juvenile fish survive to adulthood and spawn, helping to support a thriving marine ecosystem and restore sustainable fish stocks for our economically and culturally important coastal fisheries,” said NC Wildlife Federation CEO, Tim Gestwicki.

North Carolina is the last state on the East Coast to allow trawling in inside waters. The bycatch rate is more than 4 pounds of juvenile finish to a single pound of shrimp. Studies have shown that 15 million pounds of juvenile spots, Atlantic croakers and weakfish (gray trout) were discarded last year, most of which did not survive.

As presented by the NCWF, the petition does not ban trawling, but it proposes a balanced approach of defining the type of gear and managing fishing in areas that are essential for juvenile finfish development.

The petition had two parts, designating inshore waters and waters the state manages in the ocean, out to three miles, as secondary special nursery areas, and restricting gear and reducing trawling effort.

The petition asked the Commission to:

• Open the shrimp season once the shrimp count in Pamlico Sound reaches 60 per pound (heads on) as evaluated by the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries;

* Reduce headrope length on trawlers to 90 feet in internal waters and 110 feet in ocean waters;

• Limit tow times to 45 minutes in all special secondary nursery areas;

• Limit fishing days to three per week during daylight hours in internal waters and four days per week in ocean waters;

• Require the use of two DMF-certified Bycatch Reduction Devices;

• Establish size limits for the possession of spot and atlantic croaker. The limits were initially proposed at 8 inches for spot and 10 inches for croaker, but the Commission will begin a survey to determine which net mesh size is most effective for limiting the harvest of juvenile croaker and spot, with an evaluation to take place by no later than Jan. 1, 2018.

“We believe that the package that we put forward is a fair balanced one.  It’s research and science based, providing a strong basis for the MFC in moving forward. We’re happy that the majority of the commission determined that this was a positive, research based and science based place to start their proceedings on the future rules for determining what bycatch should be and how it should be handled,” said David Knight, NCWF Policy Consultant who leads the Federation’s Sound Solutions campaign.

"Disappointing is not quite the word to use to describe my reaction to the MFC vote, but neither is shocking. For anyone that is familiar with this particular commission, the vote to accept the petition isn’t shocking,” Jerry Schill of the N.C. Fisheries Association wrote in an email Thursday.

"We still expect many hurdles will have to be overcome along the process to reach the final goal of the Petition to reduce bycatch in the shrimp trawl industry and provide additional habitat protection in our estaurine waters. Even with the long journey still ahead, this is a big win for our coastal resources,” said David Sneed of the Coastal Conservation Association-North Carolina. 

A copy of the petition may be seen at http://portal.ncdenr.org/c/document_library/get_file?uuid=c2b70a32-34a8-45f3-b96a-0b2c275af883&groupId=38337

A copy of the amendments may be seen at http://portal.ncdenr.org/c/document_library/get_file?uuid=72cd4c69-8643-4b23-9113-439172c240ef&groupId=38337.