Regarding the June 27 Point of View “The dark side to North Carolina’s fishing heritage”: In 2012, the General Assembly banned the purse-seining of menhaden off our coast, in part due to a stock assessment that was less than ideal. Three years later, we find that the stock assessment was incorrect, and menhaden are not overfished. A 2009 stock assessment claimed speckled trout had been overfished, leading to drastic restrictions. In 2014, we found the assessment was incorrect, moving the fish from the bottom category of “depleted” to the best category of “viable” in this year’s stock status report.
Twice in the past few years through the recommendations of the Marine Fisheries Commission, we banned one type of commercial fishing and restricted the other based upon bad information. Now comes Southern flounder, the most economically important commercial finfish fishery in our state. Since 1979, 28 conservation measures have been put in place in that fishery, including increased size limits and numerous gear changes and closures. Yet the commercial landings have remained steady. Two of the three peer reviewers for the most recent flounder assessment stated it could not be used for management purposes. What is going on? After menhaden and speckled trout, is it any wonder that we question the efforts of the MFC to rush into draconian measures again?
The MFC should be working on an amendment to the fishery management plan for Southern flounder. With a supplement, it is too easy to once again make a major mistake at the expense of commercial fishing families and consumers. The MFC is using the supplement in an effort to avoid oversight that comes with an amendment and to push an agenda that includes a ban on large mesh gillnets. It is circumventing the process established by the General Assembly.
The POV cited the 2014 Stock Status Report that classified 15 of the 29 species of finfish managed by the state as either “of concern” or “depleted.” However, the 2015 report shows improvement with 12 of those categories, and more importantly those listed in the top category as “viable” went from nine to 13!
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There is a segment of commercial fishermen who claim nothing is wrong with Southern flounder. Likewise, there are recreational fishermen who espouse banning the nets, regardless of the data. Both are wrong. The Southern flounder plan should be amended, and had the MFC made that decision back in February, it would be well along in that process.
As one who sat through hundreds of hours of deliberations of the Moratorium Steering Committee in the ’90s and attended the signing of the Fisheries Reform Act by Gov. Jim Hunt in 1997, I know the legislators’ intent. The law was to establish a deliberative process with extensive public input and regulatory oversight. The proposed supplement for Southern flounder avoids much of that, and the MFC needs some assistance in understanding its role in the process.
President, North Carolina Fisheries Association, Inc
The length limit was waived to permit a fuller response to the Point of View.