On Monday, November 22nd, the Marine Fisheries Commission (MFC) called a special meeting to discuss reopening the menhaden fishery in the waters South of Cape Lookout, as well as, to discuss the recently passed regulations for Speckled Trout. The results of the meeting were mixed for the resource. The majority of the remarks during the three-hour marathon public comment period were made by the commercial sector.
At the request of Ocean Bait company, the commission considered opening the waters South of Cape Lookout to the commercial harvest of menhaden (note: Currently, there is an agreement between the Division of Marin Fisheries (DMF) and Omega Protein, the largest commercial menhaden reduction operation in the country, to not allow harvesting within one-mile of the coast in the waters South of Cape Lookout). A noteworthy argument was presented by a CCA NC member, that currently there are 10 large Omega menhaden reduction fishery boats off Ocracoke Island. In addition, schools of large Red Drum are under the menhaden bait pods on the East side of Cape Lookout, and the potential for bycatch killing of this critical brood stock is inevitable if the request was approved. In what was the only bright spot of the day, after a vote of 4-3, the waters South of Cape Lookout, within one-mile, will remain closed for the commercial harvest of menhaden. While a victory for the resource, CCA NC will continue to petition the MFC to officially eliminate the menhaden reduction fishery off of our coast.
The second item on the agenda was to reconsider the recently approved harvest restrictions for the commercial industry regarding the Speckled Trout Fisheries Management Plan. The rule, voted on and approved in the previous November MFC meeting, called for a complete commercial closure from December 15th through February 28th. These new regulations would have only reduced the harvest by 28.5 % and per recently enacted legislation, did not meet the requirements of Session Law 2010-13. Incredibly, after several deliberations, many motions and confusing moments by commission members, the commission finally approved, 6-1, the commercial harvest of Speckled Trout (possession and sale) will be prohibited year-round from midnight on Friday to midnight on Sunday. However, astonishingly, the commission ruled commercial nets are allowed to remain in the water with no attendance requirements during the weekends between December 1 and April 30.
CCA NC strongly objects to this new revision. After the meeting on Monday, there is but one assumption that can be made about this commission: Its continued emphasis on commercial harvest greatly outweighs its concern for the resource. A statement was made during the public comment, “You need to start caring about the people more than the fish” and that is exactly what the commission accomplished with this ruling. CCA’s position is to take care of the resource and the resource will take care of the people.
In a related story, comments from the current appointed MFC scientist, said he ignored public comment unless it was in person or hand written. He stated he received hundreds of emails and that he put no stock in these remarks. If anglers were able to show up and read their statement in person, it would not be a three hour MFC public comment but a three day public comment. CCA NC expects ALL MFC commissioners to seriously consider and weigh all legally submitted comments regardless of the form in which the comments are received. CCA NC understands the commission members must spend additional time beyond public meetings to completely understand issues and consider public input. When they accept an appointment to the commission, they accept this responsibility.
CCA NC has a number of options it is considering to strike out this inadequate FMP. The bottom line is the management plan in place is against the law, and the blatant disregard for our coastal resources by most on this Commission cannot be continued nor accepted.