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MFC Winter-21 Meeting Next Week: CCA Comments


MFC Winter-21 Meeting Next Week: CCA Comments

Old 02-17-2021, 05:10 AM
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Default MFC Winter-21 Meeting Next Week: CCA Comments

The Briefing Book...all 330 pages for those that like to get into the weeds.


For those that like the easy version, CCA-NC has it covered in today's Tideline email-

The N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission will meet by web conference Feb. 25-26, beginning at 9 a.m. each day. The public may listen to the meeting by phone or listen and view presentations online.

A 30-minute public comment period is scheduled near the beginning of the meeting on Feb. 25. Those who wish to speak during the comment period are required to preregister by 5 p.m. Feb. 22. For links to join the meeting and to register to speak, go to the Marine Fisheries Commission February 2021 Meeting webpage.

Members of the public may also submit written comments to the commission in two ways:
  1. Online Comments - Public comments will be accepted until 5 p.m. Feb. 22 through an online form available here.
  2. Mailed Comments - Written comments may be mailed to February 2021 Marine Fisheries Commission Meeting Comments, P.O Box 769, Morehead City, N.C. 28557. Comments must be received by the division by 5 p.m. Feb. 22.
For information on scheduled meeting topics, see the agenda and briefing book on the Marine Fisheries Commission February 2021 Meeting webpage.

CCA NC has prepared a list of Issues for Commissioners ahead of the meeting that highlight our concerns for conservative management of our coastal marine resources. We encourage all members and supporters to submit their own comments either by registering to speak during the public comment period or by submitting them online using the above link. Please let us know if you have any questions or additional concerns.

1. Estuarine Striped Bass FMP - The dreadful condition of the striped bass stock statewide is caused by three problems: directed fishing and bycatch mortality, environmental conditions and dams. While the MFC has no control over the environment or damming rivers, it can control fishing mortality.

The ASMA/RRMA stock assessment indicates overfishing is occurring and the stock is overfished, and it calls for a moratorium or at least a greatly reduced quota. CCA NC supports these measures as necessary to relieve fishing pressure, however, failure to address the other source of fishing mortality-bycatch in gill nets-will greatly impede or prevent recovery. While bycatch estimates are controversial, there is no doubt that as a stock recovers bycatch will increase.

Expanding the current gill net restrictions to include the following would be the most effective option: (a) all of the Albemarle Sound and connecting river systems with the exception of those used in the blue catfish fishery, (b) for the Neuse and Tar-Pamlico Rivers of the CSMA, move the restrictions out to the tie-down lines, and (c) for the Cape Fear River region of the CSMA, add in gill net restrictions sufficiently below Wilmington to protect the range of stripers present there. If striped bass range increases upon recovery, removal of additional areas should be implemented.

Once the DMF and MFC endorse these areas, CCA NC will support stocking striped bass to either enhance the spawning stock biomass in regions where the fishery can recover OR to establish a put/grow/take recreational ONLY fishery in areas where the fishery will not be able to sustain a natural population.

We need collaboration NOW between the WRC, DMF and the U.S. Corps of Engineers to create a plan that better manages the water flow on the Roanoke River. And throughout all coastal river systems, the plan should control harvest, remove destructive gear to reduce both recreational and commercial discard mortality, and introduce supplemental stocking measures. Any plan needs to include more public involvement from the people of N.C. who own these resources while the DMF must stop trying to manage our coastal resources in a vacuum.

2. Southern Flounder FMP - The proposed allocation and certain rules proposed by DMF are patently unfair to recreational fishermen. If the Southern flounder is to become a quota-managed fishery, then the current commercial/recreational split of 73/27 should be changed to a 50/50 allocation just like the AS/RR striped bass fishery. The use of "historical" landings to establish a quota-managed fishery further highlights the fact that the commercial industry exploited Southern flounder for three decades.

When Division biologists were insisting that a 72% harvest reduction was needed to save the stock from collapse, they insisted that the cuts had to be "equitable." "Historically," the commercial industry was responsible for 80% of the harvest so they should have been responsible for the brunt of the reductions. No, it had to be equitable. Now the stock has to be managed by quota and DMF biologists want to use "historical" numbers instead of "equitable" numbers.

Recreational harvest limits should be based on this new TAL and the ocean should be opened to give recreational anglers an opportunity to harvest summer and Gulf flounder during the time of year when they can be accessed. The proposed ocean access during March/April needs to be shifted in such a manner that the current recreational flounder season is lengthened in areas of the ocean where interactions with Southern flounder will be minimal. Opening the ocean fishing in March/April is another "feel good" measure that accomplishes little conservation and just locks rec anglers out. No one is fishing for them then. The ocean should be open all year for oscillated flounder.

Since these two ocean stocks are currently healthy, a daily creel limit of 2 - 4 fish with the same 15" minimum length should be allowed. Finally, with this specific fishery under such stress, gill nets allowed under the RCGL should be discontinued, just as large mesh gill nets should be removed as an acceptable commercial gear.

3. Shrimp FMP - Ultimately, trawlers must be removed from Pamlico Sound. Several current management measures under consideration for the next FMP are beneficial to the resource and CCA NC supports them. The area closures under consideration by DMF scientists should have minimal impact on the ability to harvest shrimp while still addressing bycatch hotspots for some juvenile species, including spot, croaker, weakfish, Southern and summer flounder.

Other proposed restrictions to reduce effort such as minimizing headrope length, closing trawling for an extra day (that should be added consecutively to the current weekend ban on trawling), and reducing tow times should be supported by the MFC. Each of these options has the potential to benefit the resource as a whole and help restore numerous habitats damaged by trawling; CCA NC sees them as a start to recovery of many troubled finfish species.

4. Circle Hooks - Circle hooks should be required when fishing with live or cut bait for specific fisheries such as: cobia, redfish, speckled trout, flounder, and striped bass (already required in the Albemarle Sound per ASMFC). Doing so will clearly reduce mortality of released fish and endangered sea turtles.

5. Management - Many inshore species (speckled trout, redfish, striped bass) have tremendous economic impact generated by recreational anglers and should be managed accordingly, similar to how commercial crab and shrimp fisheries are managed for that sector. Since each of these specific fisheries is driven by the recreational sector, management measures should be taken to recover and enhance them. Destructive gear should be removed while habitats are reclaimed and enriched to guarantee these key inshore gamefish flourish to maximize access by recreational fishermen.

The tremendous pressure on speckled trout in 2020 should highlight the need for more proactive management. Fishing effort for speckled trout increased at a remarkable rate during 2020 from a number of factors including the "Covid effect," which allowed more recreational anglers time on the water because of lockdowns elsewhere.

Why is this important?
  1. The management strategies developed through the FMP process do not account for the magnitude of the increase in this fishing effort.
  2. The Division's ability to monitor activities at these sites relies on accurately predicting fishing effort. It's all part of the survey mechanics. It would have been impossible to predict these increases. Estimates of catch will be made but there was no way to catch up with what was going on.
  3. Current management strategies have basically halted fishing for inshore species like striped bass and flounder. Along with the pitiful status of spot, croaker and weakfish, the result is nearly everyone fishes for trout. Inshore finfish stocks have been managed into a "hole" of sorts that is going to be extremely difficult to escape. Just think of what would happen if we had a cold kill.
  4. We also need to think about what surely happened to DMF's commercial sampling. We suspect that due to Covid there was a significant period without any fish house sampling and observer work.
  5. The Commission would be wise to ask the DMF to brief them on how Covid impacted its ability to collect information needed to manage fisheries.
6. Legislative Issues - Several issues of importance to our resource will require legislative action. Among them are:
  1. Latent Licenses: This hidden fishing effort and its lack of reporting must be addressed. In 2020, 66% of SCFL holders never filed a trip ticket. This is a systemic problem that impacts all FMPs because harvest and bycatch are grossly underestimated. All SCFL fishing trips should be required to report catch on a trip ticket regardless of whether any of the catch is sold. The result of underreporting is that stock assessments estimate a rosier picture of the stocks and lead to overfishing.
  2. Enforcement: Funding should be increased to support more agents and full policing powers should be granted to DMF agents, so they have the tools to crack down on poachers 24/7.
  3. Recreational Commercial Gear License (RCGL): This licensing category should be abolished. Using bona fide commercial gear such as gill nets to catch recreational limits (one red drum, one flounder, four speckled trout) is impossible. Recreational gill nets should be removed, and other allowed gear should either require a SCFL (small trawlers, perch pots) or be reclassified as recreational gear (minnow traps, crab pots).
  4. Misuse of SCFL: A small number of commercial fishermen locally are licensed also as for-hire recreational guides. They are running "heritage trips" that encompass a morning duck hunt followed by an afternoon of gill netting, primarily for trout. This type of dual use should be prohibited. No recreational for-hire licenses should be used in conjunction with a SCFL. Recreational anglers should be held to recreational bag limits regardless of whether the for-hire trip is using commercial gear.

7. Small mesh issue paper - As mentioned repeatedly throughout this paper, North Carolina's marine resources can only fully recover when large and small-mesh gill nets are removed. Since this paper is being considered for action, however, CCA endorses those options that most effectively limit yardage, allowable times of usage, areas where they can be set and done so in such a manner that minimizes bycatch and user conflict.

Last edited by Rick S; 02-17-2021 at 05:32 AM.
Old 02-17-2021, 07:22 AM
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I definitely plan on submitting comments on the closed Rock Fish seasons for the Neuse and Trent Rivers. My family has owned a place on the Neuse River between New Bern and Oriental since the 1960's. I've caught Rock in the Neuse & Trent Rivers all my life, long before they were stocking Rock in the Neuse from the hatchery in Edenton. Just like most things with nature some years were better than others so I just don't see an adequate justification for the closure. I sincerely hope my fellow recreational anglers take a few minutes to voice their opinions on how poorly our fisheries are managed here in NC.

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