I was somewhat disappointed in the lack of research in your Sept. 1 editorial “Fishy business on fish rules” on southern flounder.
A recent stock assessment on southern flounder prepared by the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries was rejected by independent biologists during the peer review process. Basically, the assessment was rejected because it did not consider that the southern flounder stock is an “open population.” That is, unknown numbers of southern flounder exit North Carolina waters to enter southern (South Carolina, Georgia and Florida) waters, some unknown numbers remain offshore after spawning and some unknown numbers might enter North Carolina waters from the south. Hence, a coast-wide assessment is required to determine the status of the stock.
During the February MFC meeting, commissioners voted to pursue a “supplement” – a temporary, fast-acting mechanism to address an urgent issue that did not exist. Most troubling was the arbitrary decision to reduce the catch of southern flounder by no less than 25 percent and no greater than 60 percent. These reductions in catch were arbitrarily selected with no scientific basis. This decision created a debacle.
During the May MFC meetings, six proposals were presented. Based on arbitrary reductions in effort and no science, Proposals 1 and 2 were draconian measures that suggested the stock was about to crash. The proposals assume that the southern flounder stock is in decline due to overfishing. This assumption is flawed.
We do not know the status of the southern flounder stock from past and present assessments and will not until a coast-wide assessment is accomplished. These proposals will have a major impact on fishing landings of large gill net fishermen.
On June 17, the MFC held a public hearing in New Bern to hear comments relative to proposals to reduce effort in the commercial and recreational fisheries. At that meeting, the N.C. Coastal Conservation Association and other recreational fishermen continued to assert that the stock is overfished. Again, these are erroneous assertions that had a negative influence on the MFC decisions. They certainly will have a negative impact on commercial fishermen’s families and the consumers who desire fresh flounder.
In the editorial, a major concern appears to be the involvement of lawmakers in fishery management. Regarding the letter hand-delivered to DENR Secretary Donald R. van der Vaart, it does not appear that you scrutinized this document. The letter written to van der Vaart does not discuss management issues but is critical of the MFC in its duties to ensure the “long-term prosperity of both our fishing stocks and our fishing fleets.”
It is important to remember that the decision made by commissioners during the February meeting that arbitrarily put reductions on landings has created this debacle.
Allyn B. Powell
Retired fishery biologist, former science appointee to the N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission
The length limit was waived for a fuller response to the editorial.