A legal question has caused the N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission to change part of its new cobia regulations, removing the mandatory reporting of recreational cobia landings and replacing it with a request that anglers report their catches.

At its February 2017 meeting, the Commission voted to include mandatory reporting of recreational cobia landings, along with setting a May 1-Aug. 1 season and changing creel limits and size minimums. But a proclamation issued in April removed the mandate that all cobia be reported, weighed and examined at weigh-in stations approved for the N.C. Saltwater Fishing Tournament, a citation program.

Patricia Smith, public information officer for the NCDMF, explained that when mandatory reporting was passed, Braxton Davis, the Division’s director, said his group needed a legal opinion on whether it could make such a requirement. Later, Smith said, it was determined that NCDMF does not have the authority to mandate that weigh-in stations participating in the citation program also participate in the cobia reporting.

“Weigh stations volunteer for the Saltwater Fishing Tournament, but they are not regulatory entities,” Smith said. “The best that we could do was make cobia reporting voluntary. However, DMF has been having internal discussions about how we might accomplish mandatory reporting next year."

Commissioner Joe Shute of Atlantic Beach, who added the mandatory reporting requirement that passed 6-3 in February, said the change hurts DMF’s attempts to make sure it had the best cobia catch data available. 

“It was going to take a little effort, but it would have been a good thing,” Shute said. “By reporting all cobia catches, we would have concrete data for when the issue of shortening the cobia season due to exceeding the allocation comes up next year. With reporting only being requested, the data on numbers and total weight is useless, because we know there will be cobia caught and not reported.

"Having accurate landings data is very important, especially right now, as the Atlantic States Fishery Management Council is seriously looking at going to state-by-state allocations for cobia in a few years," Shute said. "With accurate landings data, we could justify our request for our allocation instead of allowing it to be done by a formula based on potentially incorrect approximated landings data."

Shute said many fishermen and biologists believe the program federal fishery managers use to estimate catches is not particularly accurate for fish caught in the ocean. Shute said he was looking forward to having a year of concrete landings data to compare. 

Fishermen wishing to register cobia catches need to obtain a catch card at a participating weigh-in station or from www.ncrecfish.com/cobia.