By Brent Fulcher
January 28, 2020
Proactive means to be positive, upbeat, and preemptive. Those aren’t words normally associated with commercial fishermen, especially in today’s regulatory environment. Many can’t see the wisdom of working within the process due to a perceived notion that it won’t do any good. Typical responses when asked if a fisherman is going to a hearing or meeting are “It’s a waste of time”. “They already know what they want to do”. And “We’re doomed anyway”.
Those of us that are active within the process obviously don’t agree with those sentiments, but there are times when I wonder if maybe the doomsayers are the ones being wise. The shrimp fishery is a perfect example.
In 2013 an individual filed a Petition for Rulemaking with the Marine Fisheries Commission that would have devastated the commercial shrimp fishery. The MFC is required to address such petitions and after a lot of anxiety the proposed regulatory measures in the petition were rejected. Just two years later, the NC Wildlife Federation filed another Petition for Rulemaking that was different but still would have led to the death of the fishery. It also failed. Then again, in May 2019, the NC Wildlife Federation filed yet another Petition with different devastating measures and was once again rejected.
Keep in mind that every time such a legal Petition for Rulemaking is filed, it must be addressed by the MFC, which amounts to staff time and significant costs to the taxpayer. The staff are directed away from other duties which are very harmful to the whole fisheries management process. It’s bad for recreational and commercial fishermen obviously, but also for consumers and all taxpayers.
All these proposals are pushed by the proponents while lying to the public and legislators with the implication that the Division of Marine Fisheries is doing little and the commercial shrimpers are doing nothing to protect the resource. Contrary to that notion, there is no fishery in our state where you can find more documented evidence of being proactive to protect the resource over the years than the shrimp fishery!
In the 70s primary and secondary nursery areas were established which either severely limited or banned all bottom disturbing gear, including shrimp trawling within those areas. That measure was proposed by commercial shrimpers and the North Carolina Fisheries Association.
In the late 80s and early 90s shrimpers worked with regulators and academics to find a workable turtle excluder device (TED) in shrimp trawls that is now universally used to not only exclude turtles, but offers reduction of bycatch of juvenile finfish. The same is true in the early 90s with bycatch reduction devices with North Carolina being the first state to mandate their use in shrimp trawls to significantly reduce bycatch. After further studies, North Carolina was the first state to mandate two bycatch reduction devices
In the shrimp fishery management plan amendment 1, and Industry Working Group was established to reduce bycatch even further. The research was conducted from 2015 – 2017 with tremendous success reducing bycatch over 40%! That study resulted in new bycatch reduction requirements for Pamlico Sound that are proven to reduce the bycatch of juvenile finfish to a level that doubles what is federally mandated.
Now, the Marine Fisheries Commission is considering the adoption of some of the measures that were rejected as part of the Petition for Rulemaking and some of those can be very harmful to the shrimpers. So you can see why fishermen get disheartened. They put their heart and soul into addressing the conservation issues with success, only to hear from some corners they’re not doing enough or some that lie and say they’re doing nothing at all.
While it’s easy to change from upbeat to downbeat with such a scenario, it’s not helpful. Naysayers are everywhere. We’ll choose to stay engaged and positive! We just don’t want you to succumb to the lies.
NCFA- Chairman of the Board
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