Like many of NCs commercial fisheries, the States shrimp industry is, once again, under attack.
Since 2013, there have been 3 petitions for rulemaking filed seeking to restrict shrimp trawling, 2 Amendments to the Shrimp FMP, 2 lawsuits filed to prohibit shrimp trawling and / or gillnetting, and we have been told language to ban shrimp trawling may be added to the existing net ban referendum, filed by Representative Billy Richardson.
While the strategies and claims, of those who oppose shrimp trawling, have varied greatly, a few undeniable facts have remained constant.
- Juvenile fish are incidentally caught while targeting shrimp.
- There is no data that draws a direct line between shrimp trawl bycatch and the declined abundance of any particular species of finfish.
- North Carolina has taken decisive and deliberate actions to reduce shrimp trawl bycatch and protect critical fish habitat.
- The only quantifiable bycatch reductions have been achieved through the development, testing, and required use of bycatch reduction devices and those reductions have been significant.
- NC shrimpers, net makers, and the North Carolina Fisheries Association have played an integral role in the development, testing, and use of bycatch reduction devices and remain committed to achieving quantifiable bycatch reductions.
It’s time for the MFC, Division, and ALL STAKEHOLDERS to show they are also committed to addressing the bycatch issue by supporting the research necessary to quantify shrimp trawl bycatch, possible impacts, and potential benefits of proposed management measures.
If their intentions are genuine, they should have no issue supporting research that will allow the State to confirm, once and for all, whether or not their concerns are valid.
As noted above, the shrimp industry is, both figuratively and literally, on trial with no evidence available to support these constant attacks.
Enough is enough! The NCFA says, No further restrictions without a conviction!
It is not unreasonable for an industry to demand that they be scientifically identified as a problem before being labeled or managed as one!
The attached comments have been submitted for public comment to the Standing Advisory Committees reviewing Draft Amendment 2 to the Shrimp FMP.
(SEE BELOW LEGISLATIVE UPDATE)
We respectfully ask that all advisors and the public support the NCFA’S position on this very important issue.
LEGISLATIVE UPDATE for 6/11/2021:
NORTH CAROLINA GENERAL ASSEMBLY:
There was no action on fish-related issues this week.
I was not in Raleigh at all due to a commitment I had in Pennsylvania over the weekend, which was extended due to the death of a family member. My uncle, Fr. Paul Schill, was a Catholic priest in the Erie Diocese. He was the last of 11 in my dad’s family and was 93. It’s hard to believe he was only 40 when he officiated our wedding almost 53 years ago. He may have gotten to the wedding in time had he not been delayed due to a speeding ticket! He served in the Army in Korea and that experience is the main reason he decided to enter the priesthood. Although we may not have agreed on all things political, he was very pleased that I was involved in protecting the livelihoods of the working class.
It was decided that the next Schill reunion, or Schillfest, will be held this October, at the Schill camp of course, which coincides with our 53rd wedding anniversary. There will be many other Schillbillies in attendance who also had Fr. Paul officiate at their wedding. We will remember him and his siblings, the in-laws, the cousins and maybe even the out-laws.
Rest in peace, Fr. Paul.
The main reason Pam & I headed north was to attend the annual gun raffle, (I call it the red-neck gun raffle), at my native parish in Fryburg, PA. I sold 60 tickets and had 2 winners: NCFA Board member Jeff Coward and good friend, Frank Folb, who is retired from Frank & Fran’s Bait and Tackle in Avon, NC. Thanks to all who bought tickets and congrats to Jeff & Frank!
NCFA PUBLIC COMMENT TO AMENDMENT 2- SHRIMP FMP
After reviewing Draft Amendment 2 to the Shrimp FMP, the North Carolina Fisheries Association (NCFA) would like to offer the following comments to the standing advisory committees reviewing Amendment 2.
The stated management goal of Amendment 2 is to “manage the shrimp fishery to provide adequate resource protection, optimize long-term harvest, and minimize ecosystem impacts”, a goal shared by the NCFA and one we feel has been largely accomplished already. The advisory committee’s responsibility is not only to determine whether the proposed management measures meet the management goal of Amendment 2, but also the overarching goal of the Shrimp FMP.
NC Statutes state “the goal of a FMP shall be to ensure the long-term viability of the state’s commercially and recreationally significant species or fisheries” and that “each plan shall be designed to reflect fishing practices so that one plan may apply to a specific fishery, while other plans may be based on gear or a geographic area”. The Shrimp FMP applies to a specific fishery, the shrimp fishery, meaning the true goal of the FMP is to ensure the long-term viability of North Carolina’s shrimp fishery. Merriam-Webster defines a fishery as “the occupation, industry, or season of taking fish or other sea animals”. That said, the shrimp fishery consists of much more than the resources targeted or incidentally taken, it also includes the often-overlooked individuals harvesting, buying, selling, and processing shrimp. This means the true goal of Amendment 2 is to provide adequate resource protection, optimize long-term harvest, and minimize ecosystem impacts without jeopardizing the long-term viability of North Carolina’s shrimp industry.
According to the Division, “the focus of draft Amendment 2 is to further reduce bycatch in the shrimp trawl fishery and protect critical habitat”. If the focus is to further reduce bycatch, then the resource mentioned in the goal for which we are attempting to provide “adequate protection” must be those species incidentally taken, rather than shrimp (the species most would assume would be the priority of the Shrimp FMP). With that cleared up, your job as advisors is to determine whether or not the proposed management measures will reduce bycatch to a level that will provide “adequate protection” for those species incidentally taken while shrimp trawling, without jeopardizing the long- term viability of the industry.
This raises a couple of very important questions. – How is shrimp trawl bycatch impacting fish abundance? How much does shrimp trawl bycatch need to be reduced to constitute “adequate protection”?
Unfortunately, according to the Division, we lack the detailed effort, gear, and catch composition information necessary to quantify shrimp trawl bycatch, meaning the total amount of bycatch and its population level impacts on fish stocks is unknown. Simply put, we don’t know how or even if shrimp trawling in NC is impacting overall abundance for any particular species. Without this information, it’s impossible to quantify what level of reduction constitutes “adequate protection”. Despite this fact, Amendment 2 contains proposed management measures ranging from “status quo” to a complete closure of Pamlico Sound. Compounding the issue, according to the Division, “quantifying the benefits of habitat protection and bycatch reductions of proposed management measures requires species specific estimates of removals, stock size, recruitment, fishing mortality, natural mortality, discard mortality, and other life history information” we currently do not have. Even if we had the information necessary to determine what percentage of bycatch reduction was necessary to meet the goal of providing “adequate protection”, we lack the necessary information needed to determine if the proposed management measures would achieve the management goal of Amendment 2.
NC statutes state “each plan shall contain the necessary information pertaining to the fishery or fisheries” being managed, something Amendment 2 clearly lacks. This lack of “necessary information” does not align with the statutory requirements for a Fishery Management Plan, and makes it impossible to determine if the proposed management measures achieve either the management goal of Amendment 2 or the overarching statutory goal of the FMP. The unquantifiable nature of the proposed management measures means they cannot be proven to be either necessary or beneficial, making them arbitrary and capricious.
While the Division acknowledges that the potential benefits of the proposed measures cannot be quantified, they claim that “area closures, effort, and gear restrictions are effective measures to reduce bycatch in the shrimp trawl fishery”. If this is the case, then we have to acknowledge that North Carolina has already significantly reduced shrimp trawl bycatch.
Currently in NC:
- 996,690 acres or 1,557 square miles of estuarine waters are permanently closed to shrimp trawling including miles of seagrass beds universally recognized as critical finfish habitat
- 76,160 acres or 119 square miles of estuarine waters are managed with seasonal closures
- 138,561 acres or 217 square miles of ocean waters are permanently closed to trawling
- 4,752 acres or 7 square miles of ocean waters are managed with seasonal closures Effort Restrictions
- Trawling in estuarine waters is prohibited on weekends
- Nighttime trawling is prohibited in some areas Gear Restrictions
- All estuarine waters except for Pamlico Sound have a 90-foot maximum headrope requirement
- Pamlico Sound has a 220-foot maximum headrope requirement
While we lack the data to quantify the benefits of these restrictions, the Division clearly states these types of management measures are effective at reducing shrimp trawl bycatch. In addition to these non- quantifiable management measures, North Carolina has been a national leader in the development and use of bycatch reduction devices which provide quantifiable reductions in bycatch, such as turtle excluders and fish excluders.
- In 1992, NC became the first state to require all shrimp trawlers to use fish excluders and did so prior to any federal
- In addition to fish excluders, NC also requires all shrimp trawls retrieved mechanically to use turtle excluder devices proven to reduce bycatch of sea turtles by 97%, and also reduce finfish
- In 2015, NC became the first state to require all shrimp trawlers to use 2 bycatch reduction devices, each proven individually to reduce finfish bycatch by 30%.
- In 2019, after 3 years of collaborative gear testing, NC required all shrimp trawlers operating in Pamlico Sound to use a combination of bycatch devices tested and proven to reduce finfish bycatch by 40% more than the 30+% bycatch requirements they were previously operating
Currently, NC has the strictest bycatch reduction device requirements in the nation, with shrimp trawlers operating in Pamlico Sound and the ocean using devices shown to reduce finfish bycatch by nearly double the Federal requirements.
The fact is, the only quantifiable reductions in the bycatch of protected species and finfish have been achieved through the testing and use of bycatch reduction devices, and their reductions have been significant. The NCFA believes the current BRD requirements combined with the long list of non- quantifiable management measures currently in place, while ensuring the long-term viability of North Carolina’s shrimp trawl fishery. As noted, many times throughout Draft Amendment 2, no data exists to suggest that current protections are not adequate or that shrimp trawling in NC is impacting the overall abundance of finfish stocks.
The NCFA is dedicated to continued gear testing that will provide quantifiable answers to the public’s concerns over shrimp trawl bycatch, but cannot support the proposed measures in Amendment 2, as they raise more questions than answers. The Division states that “status quo does not meet the goal and objectives of Amendment 2”, and on this point we agree. “Status quo” in the management of North Carolina’s shrimp fishery has been to adopt arbitrary and unquantifiable restrictions without first collecting the necessary information required by statute to determine whether restrictions are necessary or beneficial. “Status quo” has been to label and manage shrimp trawling as a problem while acknowledging we don’t have the data to determine to what extent, or even if shrimp trawling is negatively impacting critical habitat or marine life. “Status quo” has been to proclaim we can’t let the lack of data prevent us from doing the “right thing”, knowing a lack of data prevents us from knowing what the right thing is.
In our eyes, Draft Amendment 2 is status quo and we have shown that nothing proposed in the amendment can be quantifiably shown to meet the goal and objectives of Amendment 2 or the overarching goal of the Shrimp FMP. The NCFA recommends that the MFC take no further action on Draft Amendment 2, re-form the industry gear testing workgroup, seek additional funding for additional bycatch reduction device testing, and instruct the Division to develop a comprehensive, long-term plan for collecting the necessary information needed to quantify shrimp trawl bycatch impacts and potential benefits of future management measures.
We ask that all standing advisory committees support these recommendations. It is not unreasonable for an industry to request to be scientifically identified as a problem before being labeled and managed as one!
Glenn Skinner Executive Director
North Carolina Fisheries Association, Inc. 252-646-7742