Lawsuit states by-catch is polluting N.C. waters
A conservation group has filed a notice that it intends to sue the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries, N.C. Department of Environmental Quality and a prominent shrimp-boat owner over violations to the Clean Water Act caused by unfettered shrimping in North Carolina’s coastal waters.
Attorneys for the N.C. Coastal Fisheries Reform Group sent a Notice of Claim yesterday to the NCDMF, NCDEQ and Jonathan Brent Fulcher, the registered agent for Gaston LLC, owner of the New Bern-based shrimping vessel Micah Bell, of their intent to file suit on the grounds that by-catch discards from shrimp boats pollutes North Carolina’s waters in violation of the Clean Waters Act, and that shrimp-trawling gear causes damage to the bottom of estuaries along the coast, destroying habitat and causing sediments and pollutants to be suspended in the water, also in violation of the Clean Waters Act.
A Notice of Claim is a legal filing notifying parties involved of an upcoming legal action. Typically, it is filed 60 days before the actual suit, giving parties the opportunity to correct their behavior or prove they are not guilty of the assertions.
Joe Albea of Winterville, spokesman for the NCCFRG, said frustration over repeated attempts to address the problem forced his group’s hand.
Timing is crucial, says conservation group
“We have tried every remedy possible to start reform talks with both the executive and legislative branches of North Carolina, and we were outright dismissed or completely ignored. They had their chance to discuss the issues,” Albea said. “We are going to take legal action against the state of North Carolina in federal court. And we intend to name leaders in the North Carolina commercial fishing industry as co-defendants, too.
“Look, the timing of this is crucial. We’re coming up on yet another shrimping season. Are we going to allow our coastal resource to be abused another year? We say no, because we are desperately trying to preserve the resource for recreational and commercial fishing alike.”
Mr. James L. Conner II, NCCFRG’s legal council, said that the annual disposal of millions of dead fish — by-catch from shrimping activities — into the Pamlico Sound violates the Clean Water Act, and that the practice has been “allowed and encouraged” by the N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission and the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries.
By-catch disposal is four times greater than shrimp harvest
Research has indicated that for every pound of shrimp harvested by trawlers, at least four pounds of unwanted fish and marine creatures, aka by-catch, are caught and discarded. Efforts to change the process through governmental channels, according to Robert P. Crone, media specialist for NCCFRG, have been unsuccessful.
“We tried to talk with the politicians, yet they ignored us,” Crone said. “But if they ignore our Notice of Claim, we will take it to the courts, and this egregious, large-scale dumping of by-catch will be exposed for all to witness. And the citizens of North Carolina will not like what they see. That’s going to be hard to ignore.”
Patricia Smith, a spokesman for the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries, said, “We have received the Notice of Intent and we are reviewing it.”