Releases – October 13, 2016
The United States Attorney’s Office recently announced that in federal court, Dewey W. Willis, Jr., 39, of Newport, pled guilty to federal charges regarding the illegal harvest and sale of Atlantic striped bass from federal waters off the coast of North Carolina during 2010.
In February 2010, a Special Agent with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) received information that commercial trawlers were illegally fishing for Atlantic Striped Bass in federal waters off the coast of North Carolina. Since 1990, there has been a ban on the harvesting of Atlantic Striped Bass in the United States’ Exclusive Economic Zone (“EEZ”) which spans between 3 miles and 200 miles seaward of the U.S. Atlantic coastline.
Upon receiving the information, NOAA engaged the assistance of the U.S. Coast Guard. A single patrol vessel in the area intercepted one of 17 commercial trawlers in the EEZ (the fishing vessel Lady Samaira), boarded the vessel, and found 173 Atlantic Striped Bass. The captain later admitted to taking the fish from the EEZ.
Given the other commercial trawlers in the same area, NOAA conducted an analysis of electronic data and written reports from those vessels. Based on its review, NOAA determined that between January 31, 2010, and February 3, 2010, Willis, then Captain of the Helen W. Smith, a commercial trawler, harvested more than 3,000 pounds of Atlantic Striped Bass, which he sold to fish dealers in Wanchese and Beaufort, North Carolina.
“The illegal poaching of striped bass by commercial fishermen has a major impact on the survival of this iconic fish resource and has the potential to devastate the future livelihoods of law abiding commercial fishermen,” said Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “Today’s plea agreement demonstrates the department’s dedication to pursuing those who fail to respect the law and fail to adequately monitor their harvest to stay within legal limits.”
According to the Atlantic Marine Fisheries Commission, “Striped bass have formed the basis of one of the most important fisheries on the Atlantic coast for centuries. Early records recount their abundance as being so great at one time they were used to fertilize fields. However, overfishing and poor environmental conditions lead to the collapse of the fishery in the 1980s.”
In 2015, the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries, along with other states, reduced by twenty-five percent the catch limits of Atlantic Striped Bass in the Atlantic Ocean and Albemarle Sound/Roanoke River areas, citing a decline in stocks. The division cited 2013 surveys revealing that the female spawning stock has been steadily declining. The reduction applies to all commercial and recreational striped bass fishing for all the eastern coastal states.
The North Carolina Marine Fisheries Commission is accepting public comment on a number of proposed rule changes, including six to implement amendments to the Oyster and Hard Clam fishery management plans.
Oral comments may be submitted at a public hearing at 6:00 p.m. on Oct. 26 at the Division of Marine Fisheries’ Central District Office, 5285 Highway 70 West, Morehead City.
Written comments may be submitted until 5:00 p.m. on Dec. 2 to Catherine Blum, Rulemaking Coordinator, N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries, P.O. Box 769, Morehead City, NC 28557. Comments may also be sent by email to Catherine.Blum@ncdenr.gov or faxed to (252) 726-0254.
Proposed rule changes to implement the Oyster Fishery Management Plan Amendment 4 and Hard Clam Fishery Management Plan Amendment 2 would amend:
(1) 15A NCAC 03K .0201 to reduce the daily commercial possession limit for oysters from 50 bushels to 20 bushels to align it with current management.
(2) 15A NCAC 03K .0202 to reduce the culling tolerance for oysters from 10 percent to five percent.
(3) 15A NCAC 03K .0302 to remove the clam mechanical harvest area on public bottom in Pamlico Sound that is no longer opened to harvest.
(4) 15A NCAC 03O .0114 to add convictions of theft on shellfish leases and franchises to the types of violations that could result in license suspension and revocation.
(5) 15A NCAC 03O .0201 to clarify how production and marketing rates are calculated for shellfish bottom leases, franchises, and water column leases, including calculations for an extension period; expand the maximum potential initial lease area from five acres to 10 acres in all waters.
(6) 15A NCAC 03O .0208 to specify criteria that allow a single extension period for shellfish leases of no more than two years per contract period in case of a natural event that would prevent the lease holder from making production and marketing requirements.
Other proposed rule changes would amend:
(1) 15A NCAC 03J .0104, 15A NCAC 03L .0102, 15A NCAC 03O .0501, and 15A NCAC 03O .0503 to establish a Permit for Weekend Trawling for Live Shrimp.
(2) 15A NCAC 03O .0503 to relocate a 2003 requirement for a permit for dealers transacting in spiny dogfish from proclamation into rule.
(3) 15A NCAC 03O .0114 to increase penalties for gear larceny.
(4) 15A NCAC 03R .0103 to correct a coordinate in a primary nursery area boundary for Wade Creek in Carteret County.
(5) 15A NCAC 03O .0501 to clarify license requirements for leaseholder designees.
(6) 15A NCAC 03M .0522 to re-establish a rule delegating proclamation authority to the fisheries director to specify time, area, means and methods, season, size, and quantity of spotted seatrout harvested in North Carolina, allowing for continued management under the North Carolina Spotted Seatrout Fishery Management Plan due to an Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission plan to remove spotted seatrout from its managed species.
(7) 15A NCAC 03H .0103 and 15A NCAC 03K .0110 to modify the fisheries director’s proclamation authority for the protection of public health.
(8) 15A NCAC 03P .0101 to align the method of commencement of proceedings to suspend or revoke a fishing license, permit, or certificate with other similar administrative proceedings by the division and commission.
For more information on the proposed rules, go to http://portal.ncdenr.org/web/mf/mfc-proposed-rules-links or contact Catherine Blum at (252) 808-8014 or Catherine.Blum@ncdenr.gov.
The commercial harvest for greater amberjack in South Atlantic waters closed, at 12:01 a.m. (local time) October 4, 2016, and will reopen at 12:01 a.m. (local time) on March 1, 2017. The 2016-2017 commercial quota for greater amberjack is 769,388 pounds gutted weight. Commercial landings are approaching the commercial catch limit and should close to prevent the catch limit from being exceeded.
The operator of a vessel that has been issued a federal commercial permit for snapper-grouper and is landing greater amberjack for sale must have landed and bartered, traded, or sold such greater amberjack prior to 12:01 a.m., local time, October 4, 2016.
During the commercial closure: (1) sale or purchase of greater amberjack is prohibited; (2) the closure applies in both state and federal waters for vessels that have a federal commercial permit for South Atlantic Snapper-Grouper; (3) harvest or possession of greater amberjack is limited to the recreational bag and possession limits when the recreational sector is open; and (4) the prohibition on sale or purchase does not apply to the sale or purchase of greater amberjack that were harvested, landed ashore, and sold prior to 12:01 a.m., local time, October 4, 2016, and were held in cold storage by a dealer or processor.
This closure is necessary to protect the greater amberjack resources by preventing the commercial annual catch limit from being exceeded.