Fish Post

Releases- June 20, 2019

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The N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission is moving toward implementing commercial and recreational flounder seasons to end overfishing and rebuild the overfished southern flounder stock.

The commission voted last week to accept the recommendations of the Division of Marine Fisheries in their entirety as its preferred management options for Draft Amendment 2 to the Southern Flounder Fishery Management Plan.

The division proposes a 62% reduction in southern flounder harvest (compared to 2017) in North Carolina this year and a 72% reduction in harvest beginning in 2020 to be achieved through commercial and recreational season closures. The division also proposes yardage and time restrictions for gill nets and prohibiting the use of puncturing devices, such as gaffs, in the pound net fishery.

The specific Marine Fisheries Commission preferred management options can be found on the southern flounder information page on the division’s website.

Draft Amendment 2 to the Southern Flounder Fishery Management Plan is now in the departmental and legislative review portion of the fishery management plan process.

The commission is scheduled to vote on final approval of the draft amendment and its management measures at its Aug. 21-23 meeting. If approved, the management measures would become effective immediately following the meeting and stay in place until adoption and implementation of Amendment 3 to the Southern Flounder Fishery Management Plan, scheduled for completion in 2021.

Southern flounder is one of three main species of flounder landed on the North Carolina coast. The other two species are summer flounder and Gulf flounder.

Reductions in harvest are required because a 2019 South Atlantic Southern Flounder Stock Assessment found that southern flounder is overfished and overfishing is occurring throughout the region (North Carolina through the eastern coast of Florida). Overfished means the population is too small. Overfishing means the removal rate is too high.

North Carolina law mandates that fishery management plans include measures to end overfishing within two years of adoption and rebuild the stock to achieve sustainable harvest within 10 years of adoption of a fishery management plan.

 

The NC Marine Fisheries Commission held a special meeting last Thursday, June 6, to hear the results of public comment and feedback from the joint meeting of the Northern, Southern, and Finfish Advisory Committees related to the Division of Marine Fisheries recommendations on Amendment 2 to the Southern Flounder Fishery Management Plan. The MFC voted to send support to the Secretary of DEQ in favor of the DMF recommendations for harvest reductions of 62% in 2019 and 72% in 2020.

The most recent coast-wide stock assessment on southern flounder determined the stock is overfished and overfishing is occurring. North Carolina General Statute 113-182.1 mandates that fishery management plans shall: (1) specify a time period not to exceed two years from the date of adoption of the plan to end overfishing; (2) specify a time period not to exceed 10 years from the date of adoption of the plan for achieving a sustainable harvest; and (3) must also include a standard of at least 50% probability of achieving sustainable harvest for the fishery.

Sustainable harvest is defined in North Carolina General Statute 113-129 as “the amount of fish that can be taken from a fishery on a continuing basis without reducing the stock biomass of the fishery or causing the fishery to become overfished.”

DEQ and DMF staff recommendations of a 62% harvest reduction in 2019 and a 72% harvest reduction in 2020 for both recreational and commercial sectors will be met by using seasonal closures and by management areas for commercial harvest.

There was a great deal of pushback against the DMF recommendations from the commercial commissioners because of the economic impact on fishermen. This continued a history of voting against the recommendations of DMF staff in 2005, 2009, and 2015 of reductions in harvest to end overfishing.

The commercial industry, led by the NC Fisheries Association, has rejected these warnings for over a decade and even filed a lawsuit to stop much lower harvest reductions approved by the MFC in 2015. Commercial commissioners again argued against any cuts to harvest this year despite the dire warnings of DMF biologists that the stock is now on the verge of collapse.

The three commercial commissioners—Mike Blanton, Doug Cross, and Sam Romano—were joined by At-Large Commissioner Tom Hendrickson in voting against the measure to support the DMF staff recommendations.

The motion carried on the votes of the three recreational commissioners—Chuck Laughridge, Cameron Boltes, and Rob Bizzell—joined by At-Large Commissioner Brad Koury and Scientist Commissioner Pete Kornegay.

No one wants to see fisheries closed, but the failure to reduce harvest at any level by previous commissions has pushed this fishery to the edge of no return. There is no doubt the commercial industry will suffer, as will the recreational industry. Recreational fishermen will see their inshore bag limit drop to one red drum and four speckled trout in September, but we are willing to do what is necessary to rebuild this fishery before it is too late. This plan is not perfect, but it is a step in the right direction.

There was also positive discussion introduced by CCA NC on the discrepancy in how the ocean flounder harvest is currently managed. The new southern flounder amendment would not only close harvest of southern flounder caught in inshore waters by recreational anglers, but also any flounder caught by recreational anglers in the ocean.

Commercial harvest in the ocean, targeting summer and Gulf flounder, would remain open even when the inshore southern flounder fishery was closed. The Division and Commission have committed to resolving this inequity in coming months.

CCA NC thanks the commission for taking action last week in support of our coastal public trust resources by moving the protection of southern flounder forward. CCA NC also thanks the Secretary and the DMF for standing strong in support of what is necessary to end overfishing of southern flounder and begin the rebuilding process.

 

The N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries is accepting proposals for the Boating Infrastructure Grant (BIG) Program for federal fiscal year 2020.

BIG is a grant program of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that reimburses up to 75 percent of costs for projects that construct, renovate, or maintain tie-up facilities and related amenities for recreational transient vessels that are at least 26 feet long. The grant program was authorized by Congress in 1998 and is funded by excise taxes on fishing equipment and motorboat fuel.

The Division of Marine Fisheries serves as the liaison between projects in North Carolina and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for the BIG Program. Proposals must be submitted to the division to be considered for this funding opportunity.

Some examples of potentially eligible activities include transient slips, mooring buoys, day-docks, floating and fixed piers and breakwaters, dinghy docks, restrooms, showers, laundry facilities, retaining walls, bulkheads, dockside utilities (water, electric, telephone, internet), sewage pump-out stations, recycling and trash receptacles, navigational aids, and marine fueling stations. Applicants must have or intend to construct dedicated dockage for transient vessels to receive funding for these eligible activities.

BIG funds are awarded each year. Grants are available on a two-tiered basis. For Tier 1–State grants, all states may receive up to $200,000 per grant cycle as long as proposals meet the program’s guidelines. For Tier 2–National grants are reserved for large-scale, more expensive undertakings and are awarded on a nationwide competitive basis. For this funding opportunity, applicants may apply for up to $200,000 under Tier 1 and up to $1.5 million under Tier 2.

For information about grant availability, project eligibility, and proposal development, please visit the division’s BIG web page or contact Vicky Pohoresky, division federal aid coordinator at (252) 808-8016. The deadline for applications to be received by the state Division of Marine Fisheries is 5:00 pm on Monday, July 29, 2019. Electronic submission to Vicky.Pohoresky@ncdenr.gov is required.

 

The N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries is reminding fishermen that its Elizabeth City office has moved since last summer.

Area commercial fishermen who need to renew their standard commercial fishing licenses and permits at the office should go to the new location at 100 Kitty Hawk Lane, Elizabeth City, which is off Industrial Park Drive about 1.7 miles north of the Coast Guard base.

From the intersection of Weeksville Road and Industrial Park Drive, travel about 0.1 miles on Industrial Park Drive, then turn right onto Kitty Hawk Lane. The street will dead end at the office location.

The office telephone number is (252) 264-3911.

Recreational fishing and hunting licenses and boat registrations are also sold at this location.