Releases- August 15, 2019
The N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission will meet Aug. 21-23 at the Doubletree by Hilton University Brownstone, 1707 Hillsborough St., Raleigh.
The meeting will begin at 6:00 p.m. on Aug. 21, at 9:00 a.m. on Aug. 22, and at 8:30 a.m. on Aug. 23.
Public comment periods will be held at 6:00 p.m. on Aug. 21 and at 9:30 a.m. on Aug. 22. Members of the public may speak to the commission on any fisheries-related topic. The chairman will allow each speaker to comment for three minutes. More time may be allotted, at the chairman’s discretion, depending on the number who sign up to speak. Those making comments will be asked to speak only once, either at the Aug. 21 or the Aug. 22 session, but not during both public comment periods.
The deadline for submitting written comments to the commission, including email, through the Marine Fisheries Commission Office, is at 5:00 p.m. on Aug. 16. Those who wish to forego this process and give handouts to the commission during the public comment period should bring at least 12 copies of the handout.
The public may listen to the meeting online. Up to 200 participants may listen to audio and view presentations in real-time on a first-come, first-served basis. Directions for participating in the webcast, including information on system requirements and testing, can be found here. Following the meeting, an audio recording will be posted online.
The commission is scheduled to:
(1) Vote on final approval of Amendment 2 to the Southern Flounder Fishery Management Plan. The commission voted in June to select its preferred management options. The specific Marine Fisheries Commission preferred management options and other related information is available on the southern flounder information page on the division’s website.
(2) Receive a new petition for rulemaking from the N.C. Wildlife Federation and vote on whether to initiate the rulemaking process. The petition asks the commission to designate all internal coastal waters not otherwise designated as nursery areas as Shrimp Trawl Management Areas. The petition also asks for gear and time restrictions within these new areas.
(3) Vote to send Draft Amendment 3 to the Blue Crab Fishery Management Plan out for public comment and advisory committee review. A 2018 stock assessment determined that North Carolina’s blue crab stock is overfished and overfishing is occurring. At least a 0.4% reduction in the number of crabs harvested is needed to end overfishing within two years, as required by law. At least a 2.2% reduction in the number of crabs harvested is needed to achieve sustainable harvest within 10 years, as required by law. The draft amendment includes several options for achieving these harvest reductions.
(4) Receive a presentation from Division of Marine Fisheries staff on this year’s stock overview and on the 2018 landings summary.
A full meeting agenda and briefing book materials are posted online here. http://portal.ncdenr.org/web/mf/08-2019-briefing-book.
A few weeks ago, the last barge load of marl was placed on the Swan Island Oyster Sanctuary, completing a three-year project to build one of the largest oyster sanctuaries in North Carolina waters.
The 60 new acres of oyster habitat at the mouth of the Neuse River brings the total to 357 acres of oyster sanctuaries in the state.
An oyster sanctuary is an area where oyster restoration activities have occurred, and the harvest of oysters is prohibited. The N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries builds oyster sanctuaries to encourage the growth of large, healthy oyster populations that act as a brood stock for the rest of North Carolina’s coastal waters. In addition to attracting oyster larvae, manmade oyster reefs function as a complex habitat for juvenile finfish, crabs, and other marine species.
Construction of Swan Island Oyster Sanctuary was a $3 million project in partnership with the N.C. Coastal Federation, and jointly funded with state and federal money. The project involved deployment of 25,000 tons of granite and 55,000 tons of limestone marl over a three-year period.
The material was deployed in ridges that are visible on a side scan sonar image. The ridges measure about 200 feet long, 25 feet wide, and four feet tall. The reef was constructed this way to provide vertical complexity and increase the likelihood of larval settlement and survival of oysters.
Swan Island Oyster Sanctuary is already home to healthy oyster populations. Monitoring of the site shows that oysters are growing on the material placed in the first two years, and the material on the sanctuary is providing habitat for fish, such as speckled trout, sheepshead, and bluefish.
The division has been permitting, constructing, and monitoring oyster sanctuaries since the late 1990s following a recommendation from the 1995 Blue Ribbon Advisory Council on Oysters to rehabilitate oyster populations in North Carolina. Since then, the division has constructed 15 oyster sanctuaries in Pamlico Sound, using a variety of materials, including concrete, reef balls, limestone marl, and granite to create large, complex areas where oyster larvae can settle and mature.
Historically, oyster sanctuary site selection was largely dependent upon where historic oyster reefs once existed. Today, the division chooses sanctuary sites using a more modern habitat suitability index which incorporates the best available scientific data to rate areas based on salinity gradient, bottom type, tidal flow, larval transport, wave action, and prevailing wind data, as well as historic oyster presence data and stakeholder input.
For more information on the Swan Island Oyster Sanctuary or other oyster sanctuaries in North Carolina, see the Division of Marine Fisheries’ Artificial Reef Program webpages or contact Jordan Byrum at (252) 808-8036.
Artificial reefs are manmade underwater structures, built to promote marine life in areas with otherwise featureless bottom. North Carolina builds reefs to support healthy fish populations, create accessible fishing and diving opportunities, and in some places, restore degraded habitat for oysters.
The N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries maintains 43 ocean artificial reefs and 25 estuarine reefs, 15 of which serve as oyster sanctuaries. Ocean reefs are situated so that they can be reached from every maintained inlet in the state.
The success of North Carolina’s Artificial Reef Program is due in part to wide public support and Division of Marine Fisheries staff, who develop, maintain, evaluate, and administer the reef systems.
Artificial reef enhancement in North Carolina has traditionally been a community endeavor. While the state has managed the artificial reef program since the mid-1970s, coastal fishermen and others from the recreational community have offered materials, raised funds, or provided siting input.
Artificial Reef Program staff get contacted several times a month about proposed artificial reef enhancements. These contacts come from individuals, reef organizations or other non-government organizations, marine contractors, or other government agencies that have available match funds or existing material for donation. Suitable materials, for example, are often opportunistic and available on relatively short notice but require supplemental funding for contracted artificial reef deployment. Without readily available funds, these opportunities are often lost.
In 2018, the Artificial Reef Program received $2 million in Coastal Recreational Fishing License funding for a four-year enhancement project. The project receives $500,000 each fiscal year over the course of the four years to use on the procurement and deployment of reef material.
The project has been broken up geographically for each year to allow for enhancements in each region of North Carolina’s coastline. Since Coastal Recreational Fishing License funds were granted in previous years to build a new reef (AR-165) in the Outer Banks area, this area was excluded from the four-year project. The project is scheduled as follows:
(1) Year one (fiscal year 2018-2019) — Material procurement for Raleigh Bay and Southern Onslow Bay;
(2) Year two (fiscal year 2019-2020)—Material deployment at AR-250 and AR-255 in Raleigh Bay and AR-368 in Southern Onslow Bay;
(3) Year three (fiscal year 2020-2021)—Material procurement and deployment at AR-430 in Long Bay;
(4) Year four (fiscal year 2021-2022)—Material procurement and deployment in Northern Onslow Bay.
June 30, 2019 marked the end of project year 1. The year 1 funds were used to purchase 696 Reef Balls (434 Supras and 262 Goliath Reef Balls). These will be split between AR-250, AR-255, and AR-368 during the reef deployments in Year 2. Year 2 deployment will also include a 180’-200’ vessel to be sunk at AR-368.