The N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission voted Thursday at a meeting in Morehead City to keep its cobia fishery open in state waters beyond the federally mandated June 20 closure, going out of compliance with the South Atlantic Fisheries Management Council.

The Commission voted to change creel and size limits to keep recreational fishermen from overfishing their annual cobia quota, effective on Monday, May 23, while voting to close the fishery on Sept. 30 instead of June 20.

Charter boats will be allowed a four-fish daily limit, with a 37-inch minimum size. Fishermen in the surf and on piers will be allowed one cobia per day, with a 37-inch size minimum. Recreational fishermen in boats will be restricted to keeping cobia on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays, with a two-fish limit per boat and a 37-inch size minimum. 

Earlier this year, NOAA Fisheries announced that the recreational season on cobia in the Atlantic Ocean north of the Georgia-Florida border would close at 12:01 a.m. on June 20, 2016, to make sure the total catch limits would not be exceeded as they were in 2015. NOAA Fisheries encouraged participating state agencies to remain consistent with the federal closure mandate in State waters to prevent overruns and further closures in 2017. 

Jot Owens of Jot It Down Fishing Charters in Wilmington is glad to see the Commission look out for the tourism industry and the thousands of recreational anglers that visit the coast annually.

“It was the right decision. The tourism industry is very important here in North Carolina and we now have nearly a full cobia season. Today’s vote will keep people on the water,” said Owens, who did not agree with the restrictions on recreational anglers in private boats.

“Even though I run a charter boat, I personally feel the recreational regulations should mirror the charter regulations. I take recreational anglers fishing every day, and they should be treated the same. But this vote does keep us fishing, and that’s the important part.”

The regulation changes will only affect fishermen in state waters — from the shoreline out to three miles. Fishing in federal waters, beyond three miles, will remain closed beginning June 20 through the end of the year.