North Carolina’s greatest natural asset is also its most delicate – its coast. It needs to be watched over, preserved and protected. Instead, its surface is being trampled by development, its waterfronts stripped of their natural character and the underwater beds of the Albemarle-Pamlico Sound raked by reckless trawling.
The state has plenty of regulations, divisions and commissions charged with caring for the coast. But in recent years, that mission seems to have come second to concerns about commerce and profits. Gov. Pat McCrory’s strongest comment about the coast has been to call for offshore oil drilling.
While many profit from the coast, its value is draining away. Fish stocks are dwindling. Inshore waters are filling with sediment and being degraded by pollution. Fish nurseries are not adequately protected. Regulations aren’t well-enforced because of a lack of funding for more officers.
Last week, the North Carolina Wildlife Federation declared enough is enough. At a news conference in Morehead City, the federation presented a sweeping set of recommendations under the title of: “Sound Solutions: Sustaining North Carolina’s marine resources and wildlife.”
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The federation, a private statewide organization of over 20,000 members that advocates for the state’s wildlife and habitat, called for a joint effort among the governor, his administration, the General Assembly, conservationists, fishing interests and others to act on the recommendations.
The federation’s recommendations focus on three areas: keeping the sounds sustainable, instituting better management and oversight of coastal land and waterways and creating tighter limits on destructive fishing methods and gear.
The roughly 2.5 million acres of sounds, wetland and waterways between the mainland and the Outer Banks make up the second-largest estuary in the United States. But the federation says North Carolina is drawing attention for its poor handling of its magnificent resources.
“We’re becoming more known for ineffective policy, mismanagement and unsustainable fishing practices,” the federation says in a report listing its recommendations. “Without stewardship, N.C.’s marine resources will become depleted until there’s nothing left for anyone.”
The numbers support the concern. The stocks of 25 types of fish found in North Carolina’s coastal waters are listed as “mostly depleted” or “cause for concern.”
The federation is especially opposed to the use of large shrimp trawlers in the shallow Albemarle-Pamlico Sound. The trawlers designed for the ocean disturb the fish habitat and catch tons of unwanted fish that are discarded and often die. The federation describes the process and its costs in a powerful video, “Net Results, The dark side of inshore shrimp trawling,” available on YouTube.
The foundation says North Carolina should do a better job of strengthening and enforcing fishing laws and other regulations regarding the state’s jurisdictional waters. One place to start, the federation says, is providing more funding for the state Marine Patrol, which has fewer than 60 officers covering thousands of miles of coastal waters.
The federation also wants North Carolina to sign a joint enforcement agreement with the National Marine Fisheries Services that would provide supplemental enforcement funding of about $600,000. North Carolina is the only coastal state that has not entered the agreement and received the expanded enforcement capacity.
The North Carolina Wildlife Federation has raised a needed alarm about the state of North Carolina’s coastal resources. And it has accompanied that alarm with a clear set of recommendations for responding to the deteriorating conditions in ways that preserve and grow resources. Now it’s up to the governor, the state Division of Marine Fisheries, state lawmakers and all charged with protecting the coast to listen and to act.