Tensions build leading up to NC Marine Fisheries quarterly meeting

Published: Aug. 5, 2015 at 7:15 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 9, 2015 at 7:15 PM EDT
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NORTH CAROLINA (WECT) - As the North Carolina Marine Fisheries Commission plans to hold its quarterly meeting at the end of August, many recreational and commercial fishermen are worried about what the outcome might be.

"This is just a very fast track way to get this passed," said North Carolina Fisheries Association Membership and Operations Manager Lauren Morris. "We are very concerned that their assessment cannot determine whether the fish is over-fished or not."

The fish up for debate is the Southern Flounder, which is one of the most sought after fish in North Carolina.

The NCFA and commercial fishermen in the state are uneasy about the possible changes. The groups say it would mean drastic reductions in bag limits for fishermen, which would eventually lead to a sharp price increase for consumers and less dollars for the families and communities of fishermen.

"We have scientists that are telling us they don't see exactly what the Division sees," Morris added. "We are asking for kind of a pause button. Let's go into the amendment process and let's look at this more in depth."

Professor of Fisheries Biology Fred Scharf at UNCW feels differently. "They have good data," Scharf said. "Objectively speaking, the data clearly shows that we're not allowing enough fish to leave to go and spawn."

This results in the lower population of Southern Flounder Scharf adds. He says the Marine Fisheries proposal is meant to be an emergency plan - something that might only be in effect for one season.

"The NCFA feels like there is a push for this supplement process not because of a true concern for the resources, but as was shown in May at the meeting a political push to get rid of gill nets in North Carolina"

Many fishermen say conservationists and other politicians aren't happy with North Carolina laws that allow gill net use. Some are concerned about the harm they might do to sea turtles and other fish, like Red Drum or Sturgeons.

Morris says the flounder discussion began because this year marked the tenth anniversary of the first plan put into place for the Southern Flounder.

"This whole thing is really unclear even to the people that have been around for a while," commented Morris.

Scharf, who has been studying Southern Flounder for the past ten years says the process isn't easy and for it to be done correctly scientists need time to rethink the typical approach or find a new way to manage the fish.

The Marine Fisheries Commission meeting will be held at the Doubletree by Hilton Brownstone in Raleigh on August 19 through August 21.

As for those who are also upset that the meeting will be held in Raleigh, Morris says it was a coincidence and not planned to ignore the coastal towns.

"I was actually the one who had the schedule this meeting ahead of time and it's purely for economic reasons," said Morris. "It is so expensive to try to hold a meeting of that size at state rate on the coast in the summertime."

Morris and other proponents of the Marine Fisheries proposal are urging people to attend the August meeting.

"If they can do this to Southern Flounder through this system and do it incorrectly without going through the proper channels and the proper oversight without the proper science to back it up, then it can happen to crabbing, to shrimping." Morris added. "It can happen to anything and it's just a bad precedent, so it's very important for people who enjoy fresh North Carolina seafood to come to Raleigh and make your voice heard."

Then again, Scharf will tell you that whatever decision is made at the meeting is not meant to be a permanent fix, but something to benefit our fishing population as well as the industry.

Those who wish to listen in, but cannot attend can find the live streaming link on the Division of Marine Fisheries website.

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