NC shrimp industry could face changes following petition

North Carolina Wildlife Federation requests would limit times, rules for trawling

N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries—N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries
Shrimp boats docked at Lockswood Folly area ofBrunswick County.

RALEIGH — A 5-3 vote last week by the North Carolina Marines Fisheries Commission in favor of a petition by an environmental group could change the way local shrimp are harvested in state waters.The North Carolina Wildlife Federation’s petition calls for changes to shrimp trawling that the group calls “a path forward for positive resource conservation,” the group’s CEO, Tim Gestwicki, said in an emailed statement.The petition requests: limiting shrimp trawling to three days a week in the estuaries and four days a week in the ocean; limiting trawling to the daytime only; reducing the maximum trawl head rope length to 90 feet in estuarine waters and 110 feet in ocean; limiting tow times to 45 minutes; opening shrimp season once the shrimp count in Pamlico Sound reaches 60 shrimp per pound, heads on; implementing an 8-inch size limit for spot and a 10-inch size limit for Atlantic croaker; requiring all fishermen to use two N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries-certified by catch reduction devices when trawling in state waters.NC Catch, a nonprofit organization dedicated to education and promotion of the state’s seafood economy, said the new rules could cripple not just shrimpers, but also the state’s entire seafood industry.”This particular thing, if it ever came to fruition, affects everything,” NC Catch president Heidi Smith said. “It’s not just a shrimp thing. It actually affects other fisheries. If you lost shrimp, you lose your basic economic building block of the seafood industry.”Smith said the petition should not have been considered because it did not include information on the economic cost of the new rules — a study she said will now be passed on to the state at a cost to taxpayers during the 18- to 24-month process that could also involve changes to the N.C. Marine Fisheries’ management plans.”Obviously it’s not the vote any of us had wanted to see occur last week,” she said. “I won’t say it was unexpected, but it certainly wasn’t the outcome we had hoped for.”The North Carolina Wildlife Commission says the new rules would limit the amount of juvenile fish — mostly croaker, spot and weakfish — killed in trawling nets. The organization said declining fish populations due to N.C.’s current trawling rules are impacting both commercial and recreation fishing of those species, and that the new rules would still be favorable to shrimpers compared to other states.”If every word of the petition were to get implemented, N.C. would still be the most lenient state on Atlantic and Gulf states with regards to inshore trawling restrictions,” Gestwicki said in the email.Smith said the petition — a process she said is in place to let everyday people weigh in, not a nonprofit “represented by the largest law firm in the Southeast” — was identical to one filed by an individual citizen in 2013 and voted down unanimously by the commission comprised of largely the same members.NC Catch has always been more of a promotional tool for the state’s seafood industry, Smith said, but the petition led them to wade into political waters to help an industry she said is predominantly made up of family owned businesses.”We just think that public policy is best made when all the facts are on the table,” Smith said. “At least know what you’re voting for.”