The North Carolina Marine Fisheries Commission decided last week (May 12) to ask the public what it thinks about a commercial hook and line fishery for ocean-caught striped bass as the agency mulls over the creation of a new fishery.

Also at Thursday's meeting, the commission voted to go on record opposing a bill in the North Carolina General Assembly that would designate spotted seatrout, red drum and striped bass as coastal game fish.

This bill would prohibit the sale of these fish by commercial fishermen, and the commission's stated reason for opposing the bill is that "it circumvents the process provided for in the Fisheries Reform Act, which is the standing law for marine fisheries management in North Carolina."

On the proposed striped bass hook-and-line fishery issue, the commission voted to take the matter to its four regional advisory committees and its Finfish Advisory Committee to receive input from the fishing public and to consider that input at the commission's August meeting. Committee meeting dates and locations will be announced later.

The commission has not yet decided if it wants to create this fishery.

Currently, North Carolina's share of the coast-wide commercial ocean striped bass annual quota is split evenly between three commercial fisheries: the trawl fishery, the gill net fishery and the beach seine fishery. A commercial striped bass hook-and-line fishery has been prohibited since 1985.

At its February meeting, the commission directed the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries to examine a commercial hook-and-line fishery for ocean-caught striped bass to help avoid waste. The directive came after the commission reviewed incidents of dead discards of striped bass in the ocean trawl fishery this winter.

Division staff presented several options to the commission last week, ranging from keeping the status quo to adding hook-and-line as a fourth gear under the current permit system to replacing the trawl fishery with a hook-and-line fishery.

Division staff also alerted the commission that simply adding a commercial hook-and-line fishery, with no other limitations, could result in an influx of fishermen into the fishery because of the relative inexpensiveness of hook-and-line gear.

Currently, anyone holding a standard commercial fishing license or retired standard commercial fishing license can receive an ocean striped bass permit for specified gears. There are about 6,700 of these license holders.

In the 2010-2011season, the division issued 844 commercial ocean striped bass permits, although only 207 of these permit holders actually participated in one of the fisheries.

One option to avoid such an influx would be to establish a limited-entry system for this fishery.

During the same meeting, commissioners also agreed with the division's recommendation to reconvene the Spotted Seatrout Fishery Management Plan Advisory Committee so that it can begin looking at options for ending overfishing in two years.

A new law passed last year requires all fishery management plans to end overfishing within two years of final adoption. A draft Spotted Seatrout Fishery Management Plan, which was tentatively approved in November, does not meet this criteria.

A bill in the North Carolina General Assembly to clarify that the Spotted Seatrout Fishery Management Plan is exempt from this law has not been heard in committee.

Division Director Louis Daniel clarified for the commission that even if the game-fish bill passes, there would still need to be reductions in the recreational fishery to end overfishing in two years.

Finally, the commission voted to ask division staff to explore what would be needed to implement mandatory electronic reporting for commercial dealers who deal with 50,000 pounds of finfish or greater per year. The decision followed a presentation in which division staff laid out pros and cons of such a requirement.

A full audio recording of the meeting can be found at Many of the reports and presentations given at the meeting can be found on the division's website at