The N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries’ decision not to reopen some inside waters to gill-netting until Sept. 30 seems to have been the right move, with only two turtle encounters the first three nights and good catches of flounder.
Dr. Louis Daniel, director of NCDMF, opened most coastal waters south of Oregon Inlet to large-mesh gill nets used primarily for flounder. NCDMF received on Sept. 10 an Incidental Take Permit from federal fisheries officials to allow incidental takes of sea turtles in the gill-net fishery.
Waters that had been closed for several months included most of Pamlico Sound, northern Core Sound and the waters south of the US 58 Bridge between Cape Carteret and Emerald Isle. The waters of southern Core Sound, Back Sound and the North River will remain closed until Oct. 14.
Large-mesh gill-net fishing is allowed only at night and requires observers under the settlement agreement between NCDMF and the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center. They may be set only Monday through Thursday in most areas, with Sunday night allowed in some areas.
“The fall gill-net season for flounder is important to our commercial fishermen and we wanted to open it as quickly as possible but knew we had to hold off a while and let the water temperature drop to get most of the turtles out of the inside waters,” said Chris Batsavage, an NCDMF biologist. “The cold fronts that have been coming through are working in our favor moving the turtles, but they are also moving the flounder. After lots of talking with our staff and fishermen that were on the water, we selected the date and hoped it was right. This is new to us, and there isn’t any data specific to it to help make the decision.
“We were thrilled when there was not a single turtle interaction reported after the first night, and fishermen had good catches of flounder in most areas,” Batsavage said. “The second night, there was one green turtle released alive in Area B (Pamlico Sound and northern Core Sound) and another green turtle was released alive, also in Area B, on the third night. The flounder catches held up, and we are pretty pleased but are continuing to monitor diligently.”
Provisions in the ITP shifted the gill-net fishing year to begin Sept. 1 and end Aug. 31. If the number of allowed incidental takes is reached for any sea turtle species in a particular area, it will close that area to the specific gill net gear until Aug. 31, 2014. Another requirement is that recreational gill-net fishermen must also report any incidental captures of sea turtles to the NCDMF at 252-726-7021 or 1-800-682-2632.