We hope the the Commission takes notice - for the resource's sake.
First, a cold snap stunned thousands of speckled trout, and Louis Daniel, the director of the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries, closed all fishing on Jan. 14.
Then, on Jan. 15, trawl boats near Kitty Hawk killed hundreds of legal-size, ocean-run striped bass by high-grading (culling) in favor of keeping the 50 largest fish, and one trawler at Bodie Island dumped 2,000 to 3,000 dead stripers out of its overloaded nets. For the first time, hundreds of outraged recreational fishermen saw thousands of stripers floating in the Atlantic Ocean - even though this practice had been legal for years. Videos of the carnage went viral on the Internet, and two television stations presented news segments about the trawl kills.
Commercial netters deserve most of the blame for the speck closure, but not as much for the striper waste. However, the Commission played a major role by having regulations that made both changes necessary.
Because of past netting practices - and the reluctance of the Commission to reduce speck netting - trout numbers now are so low, Daniel decided they couldn't withstand fishing pressure by netters and anglers, plus cold-stun kills. Before the cold kills, recreational fishermen had swallowed a daily creel reduction of six fish (down from 10) and agreed to keep only two specks longer than 24 inches. Even though members of the Commission's Speckled Trout Advisory Committee were told that netters also would take a hit, nothing of the sort happened. The new regulation allowed them still to net seven days a week, but then the cold snap was the tipping point, forcing Daniel's hand.
Mother Nature played a major role in the striper trawl kills. The unseasonal cold weather that whacked specks also pushed stripers south from their usual winter haunts near Virginia Beach. Trawlers, however, shouldn't be blamed totally, since a 15-year-old regulation allowed them to keep the 50 largest stripers and toss the rest overboard.
In explaining how it was forced to a change to a 2,000-pound trip limit for stripers and allow for the transfer of excess fish from one boat to another (disallowed previously), NCDMF said the Bodie Island striper kill wasn't necessarily high-grading by the trawler, but the agency admitted that 2,000 to 3,000 stripers were spilled by nets so heavy that deck hands couldn't pull them aboard.
That admission pretty much sealed the deal for fish culling. Even trawl captains later admitted the 50-fish rule needed changing, and perhaps that was a factor in Daniel's decision.
Trout fishermen, especially disgruntled Advisory Committee members, hope NCDMF will keep the trout moratorium in place for a few months, even though it will hurt many guides and recreational anglers.
"They need to keep it in place until April or May, or until the specks at least spawn once," a former Advisory Committee member told us.
Hopefully, the Commission will listen to its biologists and the Advisory Committee and only allow catch-and-release speck fishing for a while. We also hope the striper trawl rules remain permanent.
It shouldn't take future lessons from Mother Nature to get it right.