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THE MFC ADVISOR
Marine Fisheries Commission Business Meeting
Clam Digger Inn at Pine Knoll Shores, North Carolina
September 23-25, 2009
 
The Marine Fisheries Commission and the Division of Marine Fisheries continue to look for ways to keep committee advisors and the public informed about commission activities. It is our intent to publish the MFC Advisor after each business meeting, summarizing the meeting, and providing a list of motions and rulemaking proceedings. Hopefully this bulletin will keep you better informed about commission activities. Visit http://www.ncdmf.net/mfc/advisor.html to view this and past issues of the Advisor. Your comments regarding this update are always appreciated – please contact Nancy Fish by e-mail at nancy.fish@ncdenr.gov or by phone at 252-808-8021 or 1-800-682-2632.
 
The commission held a public meeting on the evening of September 23, followed by a business meeting September 24-25 at the Clam Digger Inn at Pine Knoll Shores, North Carolina. The following commission members were in attendance: Mac Currin, Anna Beckwith, David Beresoff, Rob Bizzell, B.J. Copeland, Mikey Daniels, Edward Lee Mann, Bradley Styron and Darrell Taylor.
 
PUBLIC MEETING – SEPTEMBER 23
 
The public meeting began at 6 p.m. and 26 individuals spoke. The public can speak on any fisheries issues they want to address with the commission.
 
Karen Smith, a pound net and gill net fisherman from Cedar Island, spoke against a division recommendation for a July-August seasonal gill net closure and a September seasonal pound net closure. She said she did not understand why a seasonal pound net closure was needed for sea turtles. She said fishermen set their pound nets set in September to harvest butterfish and without a July-August gill net season, fishermen would not have anything else to do. She said she does not know how the fishing industry could sustain more reductions in gear. Without this income, she said her family would suffer. “We depend on these three months,” she said.
 
Jonathan White of Hertford said he fishes flounder gill nets and the July-August closure will hurt. He said the fishery management plan is doing its job; the fish are recovering. He said July and August are two of the best months when the price paid to the fisherman for the fish is the highest. While fishermen may not catch the most fish in those months, they get a good price for them and it would have a huge financial impact to close the season then.
 
Buck Cuthrell of S&S Seafood in Aurora spoke about the financial impact of a summertime flounder closure. He said it is the time of year when the fishermen, the fish houses and the buyers make money. July and August is the cash crop of flounder, he said. Come September 1, Northern states begin to open their flounder fishing seasons and the market prices decline. Cuthrell said fishermen would also lose more than just flounder in July and August. Gill net fishermen catch black drum and red drum this time of year, too. Fish houses cannot sustain themselves selling just mullet, he said. He said he understands there have been sea turtle interactions around the Cape, but in places where he works there are no sea turtle interactions. He said the whole state should not be penalized because of what happened in one area. Cuthrell noted the recent fish kills in the Neuse and Pamlico rivers and said the state should turn its attention to water quality and fish habitat. He said he has been buying flounders, so they are coming back.
 
Jack Cox of Crystal Coast Fisheries in Newport said he is disappointed the state has not been more active in federal snapper-grouper fishery issues. He said the state has not gone to bat for its fishermen against federal fisheries authorities. Cox said individual fishing quotas are not the answer. He said state-by-state quotas are what fishermen want. He pointed out that Amendment 15B to the South Atlantic Fisheries Management Snapper-Grouper Fishery Management Plan has not been passed. This amendment would ensure recreational catch overages do not count against the commercial harvest. Had Amendment 15B been in place, it would have helped the commercial fishermen avoid a vermillion snapper closure. Also, he noted, a plan to shut down the season on all grouper once the gags get caught, when there is a strong red grouper fishery off of North Carolina.
 
Brian Moore, also of Crystal Coast Fisheries in Newport, agreed with Cox, but also spoke on proposed southern flounder regulations that would prohibit commercial gigging from Sept. 1 - Dec. 31 and on a vermillion snapper closure. He said a trip limit on both fisheries would work better than a season closure to spread the quota throughout the year.
 
Wayne Dunbar of Paradise Shore Seafood Co and Guide Service in Oriental said a July-August flounder closure is unreasonable. The demand for flounder is the highest then because the gill net fishery is the only fishery catching flounders. Additionally, the demand for fresh seafood is high at that time because of the number of tourists visiting the coast. If local flounder is not available, the tourists will turn to imports, he said. He suggested the commission consider requiring a 5 ¾-inch mesh size to achieve the 20 percent reduction in harvest needed to meet legal requirements to rebuild flounder stocks instead of a season closure.
 
Bobby Brothers, a gill net fisherman from Elizabeth City, also said a July-August flounder gill net season closure would be a big hit. He said it would drive gill net fishermen into the crab fishery. It would also impact businesses that supply fishermen with goods, such as gasoline. He said the flounder catch has stayed stable over the years so the stocks must be doing pretty good.
 
Steve Kluttz of Harkers Island said that it bothered him that there was a proposal for a closed gigging season because it is a green fishery that does not take bycatch. But, he said, it is an easy group to target because they have no political power. Commission Chairman Mac Currin explained the proposal was for various closed seasons for all the different commercial gears that traditionally target southern flounder. Kluttz said he has lived on Harkers Island since he was a child and he has seen the fishing industry torn asunder. He said he served in Vietnam, but now feels his rights are being taken. He referred to how the people of Harkers Island burned a park service building years ago when the federal government formed Cape Lookout National Seashore taking property by adverse possession and warned if the commission takes away people’s livelihoods, the fishermen will come looking for them. (Mr. Kluttz was killed on October 16, when his boat capsized while fishing off of Cape Lookout - our condolences go out to his family.)
 
Edward Morris said the state was considering taking away a $3 to $4 fish and forcing him to catch a $1 fish instead. He asked if the state has to close the flounder gill net fishery, that it closes it during the periods when the market prices are lower in August, September and November, possibly closing for a week in each month.
 
Maryanne Rice read a letter from Jeff Styron of Garland Fulcher Seafood in Oriental that said a July-August gill net closure would hurt dealers. The letter noted when tourists cannot get fresh local flounder in the seafood restaurants in summer, this closure will be why. Rice also read a letter from R.E. Mayo Co. in Hobucken that said flounder stocks have increased and he can’t see where there’s a population problem. A summer closure will hurt dealers, the letter said, and businesses depend on the gill netters. It will not only hurt the fish houses, but other businesses that supply goods such as fuel. The letter asked the commission to please consider delaying the action until the country gets back on its feet and the economy has improved.
 
Sean McKeon, president of the N.C. Fisheries Association, told the commission he was proud to represent the fishing industry seeing how so many drove long distances to speak. He said he believes that recent fish kills in the Neuse River could have been prevented if menhaden boats had not been regulated out of the Neuse River. He said that with no menhaden boats to catch the fish, they school up in so tightly that they lose their oxygen supply and fish kills increase. He pointed to seaside resorts in New England that had closed because of menhaden kills that had occurred because menhaden boats were not allowed to operate in those waters. McKeon said there should be no interim measures for the commercial spotted seatrout fishery because it is a recreational fishery problem. He said the recreational fishery should pony up. McKeon said he agreed with Jack Cox on the snapper-grouper issue, that the state needs to push for management that recognizes North Carolina’s fishery is different from Florida’s. Concerning flounder, McKeon said that though the fishing mortality rate for southern flounder just barely missed its target under the current fishery management plan, but the rules changed somewhere along the line. He asked the commission to not adopt interim rules for southern flounder and allow the fishery management plan committee to address the issue.
 
Lee Morris, a commercial fisherman from Plymouth, said the state does not need more flounder regulations. The ones in place are working, he said. When fish come back in two or three years there have to be more spawners than you know, he said. He said the spawners go out into the ocean and don’t come back into Albemarle Sound. The mortality rate has already been reduced by going to the14-inch size limit, he said. Morris also noted trawlers kill flounders too, and while it cannot be changed, that catch should be counted. Natural mortality from events such as hurricanes and freezes also kill flounder, he said. He said he thinks the flounder population is healthy, but it fluctuates a bit. As far as speckled trout is concerned, anything that can suffer a freeze kill, and then recover within two years does not need stricter regulations. Morris also said there are lots of 10-inch to 12-inch gray trout that are not growing up because of natural predation.
 
Jess Hawkins of Morehead City thanked the commission and division for their work. He encouraged the commission to be actively involved in all fisheries issues that will have a significant impact on North Carolina, including those before the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council, the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission. Though the division has staff serving on these boards, the buck stops here, Hawkins said. Most of the fisheries management actions impacting the East Coast are taken by these bodies and he encouraged the commission to be aware of and contemplate the use of the division director’s proclamation authority. It is a unique and powerful tool, Hawkins said. While it is easy to entrust all these actions to a hired professional, the commission should be aware of what’s going on, he said.
 
Thomas Newman of Swan Quarter said he is a 23-year-old, five-generation fisherman who holds a bachelor of science in biology. He said he understands fisheries are hard to manage. He has read the division flounder report, but did not see a lot of focus on the financial aspect of the fishery. Newman said it would be better to implement the closures when the flounder fisheries in the northern states are open and market prices are lower. Newman also said an advisory committee proposal to shut down commercial flounder fishing on the weekends, without any recreational flounder closure was just not fair. Newman questioned whether division can accurately estimate the state’s flounder population when there is already such a large closure area in the Pamlico Sound that impacts landings. He said a two-month flounder gill net closure would have a bad financial impact on him, because the bills come due every month, whether he is fishing or not. Newman said he does not see the commission working for the people anymore; but working for the fish. People have families they have to support, Newman said. The commission must look at all these aspects.
 
Chris Elkins of Gloucester spoke representing the Coastal Conservation Association of North Carolina regarding interim rules for speckled trout and southern flounder. He said overfishing for spotted seatrout has occurred for more than a decade and measures need to be taken to stop this. The CCA agreed to a 14-inch size limit for both recreational and commercial fishermen, though it would have very little impact on commercial fishermen. For southern flounder, the CCA recommended closing the fall commercial season earlier this year to ensure a 20 percent reduction. From a Sea Turtle Advisory Committee report, it is clear sea turtles are present throughout the year, especially in the fall. He said anything we can do to reduce turtle takes will benefit all North Carolina fishermen. The CCA also recommended the state require fishermen to remove all large mesh gill nets and pound nets from the waters when flounder season is closed. Finally, the CCA asked the commission to request that the Joint Legislative Commission on Seafood and Aquaculture support legislation to require state fishery management plans have a 50 percent chance of success.
 
George Leone of Morgan Harvest Inc. in Newport said closing the flounder gill net fishery in July and August would be poor management because the best value for the fish is in those months. Leone said the commission needs to talk to the fishermen about how to best meet reduction goals. Leone also said that proposed federal snapper-grouper regulations would only build the imported seafood demand in North Carolina by eliminating a fresher product (catching fish off North Carolina requires shorter trips, and the colder water is colder, than in Florida). If U.S. fishermen cannot meet the demand, restaurant suppliers will go overseas to get the seafood, he said. Also, he said, North Carolina needs a state snapper-grouper quota rather than a Southeast Coast quota. Otherwise, the weather in Florida will be beautiful, but blowing here and fishermen will risk going out to fish in unsafe conditions to try to get their share.  He also said if the commission shut down flounder in summer, they might as well write off the whole season.
 
Tim Hergenradar, a recreational fisherman from Pamlico County, said that Pamlico Sound is a nursery area, part of a grand and glorious natural system, but it is under siege by market fishing. Inland, there is a regulated legal harvest - no market fishing allowed - and the species are thriving, but this idea ends when the waters turn salty, he said. He likened trawlers to corporate farmers, saying they are motivated by the greenback dollar. He also said mechanical harvest of oysters destroys habitat. As custodians, the commission is charged with maintaining long-term viability of our aquatic resources and must base decisions on science, but trawling in inland nurseries violates these principals, he said.
 
Jack Spruill of a recreational fisherman from Hampstead asked the commission for a consistent flounder size limit in the Alligator River system. He said it is very confusing for everyone to have different size limits on different sides of the rivers, creeks and bays. He asked the commission to move the 15-inch size limit line to some point on Durant Island.
 
Sterling Singletary, a full time commercial fisherman, said he thinks it is a shame when the fishermen have fewer rights than the fish. He said he wonders if they ever read in the Bible that “cries of their labors will cry out against you.” Singletary told the commission that Jesus will hold against them everything they do to hurt fishermen.
 
Joe Shute of Capt. Joe Shute’s Bait & Tackle in Atlantic Beach, commented that since there is new information added to the stock assessments it would be good to allow the Southern Flounder Fishery Management Plan Advisory Committee to meet one or two times to discuss this information before any interim measures are taken. He also said the commission should push for state-by-state quotas for snapper-grouper. He said that National Marine Fisheries Service is trying to regulate snapper-grouper from Maine to Florida and you just can’t do this. He said the fisheries are different and they are in different types of waters. He said National Marine Fisheries Service needs to go back to a state-by-state quota, otherwise both commercial and recreational fisheries will switch from pinkies and groupers to triggers and amberjacks, and we’ll be in trouble with these species, as well. The regulations will just grow on each other, he said.
 
Ricky Rose of Beaufort spoke against a September to October flounder gigging closure. He said that giggers are limited by weather as to when they can fish, and a September to October fishery can really help can make up for bad summer. Also, he said, gigging is a selective fishery that takes only the best flounder. He said there are probably only 15 or 20 commercial fishermen in Carteret County that gig, but they depend on gigging heavily in the summer for supplemental income. He said if the season closure goes through it should apply to recreational flounder gigging, as well.
 
Tim Salter told the commission that the proposed management measures for southern flounder contain a fundamental inconsistency because if you have a recovering fishery, you will need to continually increase regulations to maintain a 20 percent harvest reduction.
 
Gene Wooster of Alliance spoke representing CEASE-FIRE (http://www.theceasefireproject.com/), a group of North Carolina citizens concerned with military proposals to expand bombing ranges BT-11, between mouth of Neuse River and western Pamlico Sound. This range and others were developed in the 1940s under conditions that it would not interfere with the harvest of food fish, he said. To illustrate the concerns, Wooster spoke of BT-9 at Point of Marsh (Piney Island), which is just across the river from BT-11. When BT-9 was originally established it consisted of about 60 acres, he said. Now it has grown to about 18,000 acres where fishing is banned and navigation is not allowed either. Wooster said he is afraid this will happen with the proposed expansion of BT-11, which would mean more restrictions and a complete ban against navigation and fishing over 12 miles of the shoreline. He said this is a good flounder and trout area with a lot of oyster rocks and it is important to drum fishery as well. Any more loss in public trust waters is going to hurt everybody – both recreational and commercial, Wooster said. He presented a 1983 letter from the state attorney general to the commanding general at the time, and asked the commission for a letter of support.
Roger Harris, a commercial fisherman from Atlantic, said fishermen do not need more regulations. He said he sees nothing wrong with the flounder fishery. Flounder is the only fishery that fishermen can make money on now, he said. He noted the change in commercial fishing over the years. He said his family has a net shop that employed many people, and in the 1970s they couldn’t keep up with orders. Now, just his sister-in-law works in the shop and orders are so few she can keep up with the work, he said.
 
Heidi Roberts of Harris Net Shop in Atlantic said a July-August flounder gill net closure will put the fishermen out of business, which will also put a hardship on net shops and other Down East businesses. Roberts said the fishermen just want to be allowed to make a living.
 
Phillip Mason, a commercial fishermen, said if the state wants a 20 percent reduction in flounder harvest, it already has it from new restrictions on gill nets in Core Sound. He also suggested the commission consider a higher size limit for the fish or weekend closures rather than seasonal gear closures.
 
BUSINESS MEETING - MOTIONS AND ACTIONS – SEPTEMBER 24-25
 
Chairman Mac Currin convened the Marine Fisheries Commission business meeting at 9 a.m. and reminded commissioners of the requirements of Executive Order One.
 
Dennis Spitsbergen was recognized by the commission and presented with a red drum fish print to acknowledge his nine years of service representing North Carolina on the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council. Spitsbergen accepted the gift and said he enjoyed the work and believes the council made progress on such issues as sea scallops and summer flounder.
 
Chairman Currin introduced David Knight, who was attending the meeting. Knight is the assistant secretary of natural resources for the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
 
The agenda was approved for the September 2009 MFC business meeting by consent.
 
The minutes of the May 2009 MFC business meeting were approved by consent.
 
Public Comment  
Several people spoke during a public comment period. Most of the comments centered on a proposal for seasonal commercial gear closures in the southern flounder fishery meant to end overfishing for flounder and to avoid sea turtle interactions with gill nets.
 
Dixie Ray Smith, a commercial fisherman from Kill Devil Hills, said floundering is main source of his family income in the fall. Smith said there are already enough gear limits, and he does not believe there has been a decline in sea turtles or fish.
Acey Lee Hines, a commercial flounder fisherman from Kitty Hawk, rhetorically asked how red drum, sea turtles and flounder are coming back with gill nets the way they are. Because gill nets are not the problem, he concluded.
 
Tucker Walker, a commercial fisherman from Manteo, said that to him the issues at hand do not seem to be as much about flounder and turtles as they are about user conflicts over commercial gear. Walker asked the commission to consider limiting the length of a gill net shot rather than instituting seasons. He also asked them to educate the public about commercial gear.
 
Gaither Midgette of Wanchese said he pound net fishes in Albemarle Sound. He asked the commission to postpone voting on interim flounder measures until there is more data available and there can be more discussions.
 
Ralph Craddock of Manns Harbor said he thinks the state based its management proposal on just one biologist’s study. He said he does not see any computer flat-lining.   He said there are a lot of little fish in the water and that the computer will probably have a meltdown when it sees these numbers next year. Craddock said Mother Nature takes care of herself a lot of times. Craddock said he is stuck as a fisherman; he is not over the hill, but too old to start a new career. He also said he would like for his sons to be able to fish for a living if they choose. Craddock said the commission trusts computers too much. He said biologists are not fishermen, and they don’t know how to set the gear.
 
Ken Hagemann of Hatteras Island said there is something wrong with water quality. He said that for the past seven years in Pamlico Sound where he fishes, the water has been filthy. Hagemann said that Hatteras relies on tourist for its economy and building. Most of the fishermen have secondary trades as plumbers or carpenters, he said. By cutting the maximum gill net yardage to 1,000 yards, the 20 percent sought becomes 50 percent, he said.
 
Terry Pratt of Merry Hill, president of the Albemarle Fishermen’s Association, told the commission to wait until its December meeting to let the Southern Flounder Fishery Management Plan Advisory Committee consider interim flounder regulations. Pratt said he doesn’t know many biologists who trust a computer model because they don’t deal with the real world. Pratt also said that authorities keep making rules on one fish at a time when they need to move to a system-wide management plan. You cannot make a generic rule for all of North Carolina, Pratt told the commission. The state needs to address water quality and what is on shore, as well, he said. Regulating the fishery does no good without addressing the eco-system that produces the fishery.
 
Ken Seigler, a commercial fisherman from Hubert, opposed a proposal to raise the size limit on spotted seatrout from 12 to 14 inches. Seigler said the spotted seatrout population is expanding, and the controlling factor in population drops is cold stun events. The age distribution of spotted seatrout will always appear truncated in the older portion of the population as long as there are cold stun events, he said. Raising the size limit to 14 inches for the commercial fishery will only create waste in a fishery where there is currently no waste.
 
Brad Scott of Brad’s Cultured Shellfish in Wilmington asked the commission to reconsider a request he brought before the board in January 2008 to issue him a shellfish lease permit that will allow him to draw juvenile shellfish from polluted waters to transfer to open waters before harvest.
 
Steven Ammons, executive director for the Coastal Conservation Association of North Carolina, told the commission decisions it makes should be based on the best available science, not based on people’s livelihoods and what’s best for commercial or recreational fishermen. Ammons advised the board to take the emotion out of the decisions. He also asked the commission to encourage the Joint Legislative Commission on Seafood and Aquaculture to support division- requested legislation so that it will be easier to get it through General Assembly.
 
Dale Petty, a recreational fisherman from Manteo, said he has heard much comment about the value of commercially-caught fish. He said he wanted to point out that recreationally-caught fish have value too. Tourism is the top industry in the state now, and the recreational fishing industry contributes $1 billion to the state’s economy, he said. Petty said the 2005 Southern Flounder Fishery Management Plan has failed to meet the target spawning potential ratio of 25 percent. The commission knew it had a low probability of success at the time it was passed, Petty said. An updated fishery management plan is at least 12 months away with a new target spawning potential ration of 35 percent. It is not acceptable to wait for the completion of the fishery management plan to work toward that target, he said.
 
Riley Williams, a commercial fisherman from Belvidere, who sits on the commission’s Northeast Regional Advisory Committee, said the current flounder plan is working. The spawning potential ratio and spawning biomass is up, he said. Most fishermen already have their nets for next year and it would not be economically feasible for them to change this quickly to mesh sizes that select for a 15-inch fish. This is especially true, he said, since recovery of the flounder population will take care of itself. July and August is the time of year when flounder prices are highest, Williams said. If the state closes the flounder gill net fishery then, the fishermen will be forced to go crabbing, which could negatively impact the crab fishery, he said. He asked the commission to let the fishery management plan run its course.
 
Troy Outland of Manteo spoke against a proposed September flounder closure for pound nets. He said the pound netters who fish the Albemarle and Croatan sounds set their nets in September because it takes several weeks to get them deployed. A September closure would not only cut harvests in September, but October too, he said. Outland also said the only data biologists get on pound nets comes from the fish houses because they are not coming out to the pound nets to sample.
 
Issues from Commissioners
Commissioner Bizzell said he would like to see action on the following issues:
 
  • Request the commission’s regional and standing advisory committees evaluate whether or not the Recreational Commercial Gear License still has a place in the divisions’ licensing system. This issue will be forwarded to the appropriate advisory committees for consideration in 2010.
 
  • Have the commission legislatively pursue expanding Marine Patrol’s police powers. Currently, Marine Patrol officers only have authority to detain and cite people for fisheries violations. When Marine Patrol officers observe a non-fisheries violation, they must hold the responsible party and wait for other law enforcement to arrive. This can sometimes be a substantial wait. Wildlife Resources Commission law enforcement officers already have this authority so there is a precedent for this action. The commission has requested legislative consideration of this matter in the past. The issue was referred to the commission’s Civil Penalty/Law Enforcement Committee for further review.
 
  • Ask the N.C. Attorney General for a formal opinion regarding encroachment of various military facilities on the state’s public trust waters and public bottom and also wants the commission to support a compromise with the military and local users.  It was decided to receive the attorney general’s opinion first and then pursue working with the various parties to facilitate a compromise.
 
  • Delay voting on interim management measures for southern flounder until the commission’s December business meeting to allow the Southern Flounder Fishery Management Plan Advisory Committee the opportunity to review the proposed measures. This action would not impact the fishery since the potential restrictions being discussed are for the 2010 season and it would give the commission the benefit of additional input from another advisory committee. It was decided the issue would be considered in more detail during southern flounder discussion scheduled later in the meeting.
 
Commissioner Styron addressed the panel regarding concerns expressed that his participation in the southern flounder debate could be considered a conflict of interest. Styron said he had requested data from the Division of Marine Fisheries that showed 30.5 percent of his income as a seafood dealer was from southern flounder. Ethics law says individuals should not participate in discussions or votes if they have a disproportionate financial interest in the matter.  Styron felt anything above 50 percent should be the threshold considered for conflict of interest. He advised he had consulted with Commissioner Copeland on this matter and Copeland concurred the standard should be anything above 50 percent.
 
At this point Commissioner Copeland added his support of Styron’s stance that 50 percent should be the income threshold for conflict of interest and there were also other factors that needed to be considered. Copeland said the commission was balanced with three commercial representatives, three recreational representatives, two at-large members and one scientist. If one of the members was eliminated from the discussion, that would create an imbalance. He added the commission needed Styron’s expertise in the area of southern flounder in order to make informed decisions. Copeland said he believed Styron was honest and straight-forward and he would do the right thing.  
 
Commissioner Beresoff questioned if the upcoming bay scallop season could be expanded to other areas and was advised the division was in the process of sampling bay scallop populations to determine the parameters of the upcoming season and would report back to the commission at its December meeting.
 
Commissioner Beresoff then expressed concern over the impact of sea turtles and requested the division consider the implications of applying for a statewide Section 10 Permit from the National Marine Fisheries Service. Beresoff questioned if the recovery of threatened and endangered sea turtles could bring about the end of commercial fishing. He asked if a threshold had been established for the recovery of sea turtles. Division Director Louis Daniel said there would be further discussion of sea turtles later in the day, but Daniel advised the commission there is a move to downgrade the status of loggerhead turtles from threatened to endangered. Since loggerheads are the most prevalent sea turtle species in North Carolina waters, this could have a significant impact on the way state fisheries are managed.
 
Commissioner Copeland distributed a draft letter, approved by the commission’s Habitat and Water Quality Advisory Committee, to send to the N.C. Division of Air Quality commenting on a permit for Carolinas Cement plant to be built on the Northeastern Cape Fear River in the Wilmington area. Commissioners were asked to review the letter and be prepared to vote on the matter the following day.
 
Commissioner Daniels told the commission he toured the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Edenton Fish Hatchery and had seen shad being spawned. Daniels said he would like them to spawn river herring and questioned why the N.C. Aquariums did not spawn southern flounder and release them to improve the status of that stock. Daniels also said he would like to review the Striped Bass Fishery Management Plan to see if those stocks have improved enough to allow more harvest.
 
Commissioner Copeland advised N.C. State University was already spawning southern flounder and he felt it would be a good idea to have a presentation from that program in the near future.
 
Chairman’s Report
Chairman Mac Currin told the MFC that there will be a change in the format through which the commission receives committee reports. Rather than have someone read the reports of entire meetings to the MFC, written minutes will be available. Chairs of the committees will only bring forward action items and answer questions.
 
Commission member B.J. Copeland asked if the MFC could further streamline committee meetings by combining the shellfish and crustacean committees, but was advised both committees are set in state statute, so they cannot be combined without legislative approval.
 
Currin announced that Governor Perdue had appointed a new commission chairman, Rob Bizzell, who has served on the commission since February 2008. Currin said he would continue to serve as chair for the rest of the day on Thursday, but Bizzell would take over as chairman on Friday. Currin will remain on commission as a recreational fishing industry representative.
 
The MFC re-elected Copeland as vice chairman of the commission.
 
Motion by Commissioner Styron to nominate Commissioner Copeland as vice chairman of the commission, seconded by Commissioner Beresoff – motion passed unanimously.
 
Currin announced the MFC business meeting dates for 2010 as follows:
            March 23-25 in Kitty Hawk
            May 12-14 in Raleigh
            Aug. 11-13 in New Bern
            Nov. 3-5 in Wilmington
 
Southern Flounder Interim Management Measures
Chairman Currin noted that the commission received a letter from Dare County commissioners asking the commission to wait until the December meeting before implementing interim measures.
 
Motion by Commissioner Bizzell to wait to consider interim management measures for southern flounder no sooner than the December 2009 commission meeting, after the measures are reviewed by the Southern Flounder Fishery Management Plan Advisory Committee, seconded by Commissioner Beckwith – motion passed with eight in favor.
 
Chairman Currin said the commission had heard many comments from the public asking the board to allow the flounder advisory committee to address the issues. Currin said he is OK with this delay because the measures were not scheduled to take effect until 2010 anyway. But he said the commission needs to keep in mind that when the original plan was passed in 2005, the commission chose a less restrictive approach than was recommended, with the stipulation that the division would review the stock in three years, and do what needed to be done.
 
Due to budget cuts and other issues, it has now been four-plus years, Currin said. The data is good; the stock assessment is good, Currin said. He noted that stock assessments, in general, are complicated and hard to understand, but it is a given that when you add more data to a stock assessment model, the outcome changes. Currin said it is foolish for the commission to look at the 2005 assessment or data and make decisions based on it. The commission asked the division to recommend interim management measures and that is what they did, Currin said. The recommendation was made in order to rebuild flounder stocks by 2015, which is required by law. Currin said commission members must obey the law and their oath to manage fisheries for all the citizens of this state - not just those from Manteo, but from Murphey, as well. There will be enough time after the December meeting to put interim management measures in place for the 2010 season, but if the commission does not do it then it runs the risk of not meeting its responsibility under the law, he said. And the decision in December will not be any easier than today, Currin said.
 
Division director Louis Daniel told the commission he plans to take the proposed interim measures and issue papers to the Southern Flounder Fishery Management Plan Advisory Committee at an October meeting. He said anyone who feels the need to air their views can come to that meeting. If the committee cannot get through the discussion at the October meeting, we will hold another meeting in November, Daniel said. The division recommendation for a July-August gill net closure was a difficult one because of the higher price of fish. However, it was the best recommendation in terms of addressing sea turtle takes in the fishery, Daniel said. And the sea turtle issue is a major issue, Daniel observed.
 
Currin agreed, saying the commission could choose different gill net closure dates, but members need to understand if there are increased turtle interactions in the summer, the National Marine Fisheries Service could shut down the gill net flounder fishery altogether.
 
Commissioner Beresoff said that it is obvious a July-August closure is not popular with the fishermen. He said those who fish in the river bodies where there are no turtle interactions felt compelled to respond. Beresoff said he would like to keep the sea turtle and southern flounder issues separate and try to find a compromise the fishermen can live with and protect the turtles too.
 
Commissioner Copeland said there were questions brought forward from the public that were not answered in the issue papers prepared by the division. He wanted to know if there are times when the state could close the flounder fisheries that would not have as much economic impact, such as when other states have opened their flounder season. The problem, Copeland said, is that North Carolina will have no control over what other states do and no control over market prices or imports. Copeland said the division also needs to explain the differences between biological benchmarks for the 2005 stock assessment and the 2009 assessment.
 
Commissioner Daniels said fishermen are not sold on the information the division is providing. Daniels suggested that fishermen be included in internal division staff discussions on stock assessments.
 
Commissioner Beckwith requested the division give a presentation on sea turtles at the next meeting. Currin noted, in reply that a Sea Turtle Advisory Committee was formed a few years ago and completed a report with recommendations.
 
Commissioner Beckwith also suggested there be more education on gear identification at the boat ramps.
 
Director Daniel responded to Commissioner Daniels’ comment saying it would be impractical to include fishermen in division staff meetings. He said the advisory committees are the proper setting for fishermen input into fishery management plans.
 
Commissioner Styron said North Carolina needs to be more proactive in federal sea turtle issues because the more turtles recover, the more fishermen will interact with them. A July-August gill net closure may kill two birds with one stone, Styron said, but it is not economically feasible.
 
Commissioner Copeland agreed with Director Daniel that the place for interaction between fishermen and staff is the advisory committees. That is where the staff explains how they came up with their recommendation, Copeland said.
 
Copeland also suggested the commission’s Information and Education Committee needed to meet to discuss some of these issues.
Commissioner Lee added that new commissioners need a workshop to learn acronyms and procedures, and that staff needed to be mindful of bringing information down to an understandable level.
 
Spotted Seatrout
Beth Burns, division staff lead for spotted seatrout, presented recommendations for interim measures for spotted seatrout. She said an updated stock assessment shows stock continues to be overfished and overfishing is occurring. The division recommended raising the minimum size limit for spotted seatrout from 12 inches to 14 inches for both recreational and commercial fishermen. This measure will have a greater impact on the recreational fishery because commercial fishermen already tend to catch larger fish.
 
Burns said the advisory committee hopes to bring a draft fishery management plan to the commission at its December meeting; if not then, by March.
 
Commissioner Daniels noted that one commercial fishing group will be impacted by the 14-inch size limit - the long-netters. They are not a large group, but they do catch some 12-inch trout, he said. Burns replied that the advisory committee will discuss that issue.
 
Motion by Commissioner Beckwith to increase the minimum size limit for speckled trout to 14 inches for recreational and commercial sectors, seconded by Commissioner Bizzell – motion passed, five in favor and three opposed.
 
Commissioner Beresoff asked if there would be an increase in dead discards in commercial fishery. Division stock assessment scientist Christine Jensen said there will be some increase but it will mostly affect the recreational industry. Commissioner Copeland said the impact of discards in the recreational fishery would be minimized if the state required the use of circle hooks and other means of protecting the life of the fish.
 
Director Daniel further ex

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