NC Southern Flounder Fishermen Wronged by the State, for doing right!
North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) has announced the 2023 commercial season for southern flounder. The commercial season will be similar to last year’s season with a couple unjustified changes. During the 2022 flounder season the commercial sector came in well under their TAL (total allowable catch) and achieved more than their needed reduction to rebuild the stock. Logic would lead you to believe that if last season was successful for commercial fishermen, management, and the stock that this season would use the same game plan. Well fisheries management lately does not often seem to use logic.
This year DMF has decided to reduce the number of gill net days to 3 per week and set trip limits for pound nets. What a train wreck. I guess the DMF thought the commercial sector needed more days off the water for gill nets and that pound netters need not hurt their backs carrying too many fish to the dock each day. Another great reward for achieving our commercial reduction once again.
I could understand these management decisions if we had exceeded our commercial quota or if we did not have an effective process for monitoring commercial harvest, but this is not the case, Amendment 3 to the Southern flounder FMP (fisheries management plan) set guidelines for managing the commercial quota that clearly worked in 2022.
First of all, the flounder FMP requires daily monitoring of the commercial flounder harvest. Yes daily! Very few fisheries in the world have such strict monitoring requirements. And if that’s not enough, the FMP also requires, “When the sum of the daily reporting for the area and gear combination approaches approximately 80% of the allocated landings, the division will issue a proclamation immediately to close the gear and area combination to the harvest of southern flounder.”
Second, the FMP states that reopening harvest after any closure at 80% is up to the discretion of DMF and also “Allow[s] the Division to implement trip limits for the commercial pound net and gig fishery only as a way to reopen the fishery after initial closure.” Trip limits were chosen in this Amendment for slowing the fishery AFTER the sector reached 80% of their quota not for slowing the fishery at the start of the season!
Third, Amendment 3 also says, “Allow harvest of southern flounder using commercial anchored large-mesh gill nets”. DMF recommendation to the MFC (Marine Fisheries Commission) after presenting the “Phase Out Large-Mesh Gill Nets Issue Paper” was to not phase out this gear and continue to allow gill nets for commercial flounder harvest. DMF staff also mentioned multiple times during the Amendment process that the existing large-mesh gill net measures needed to remain under the southern flounder FMP. These existing large-mesh gill net measures allowed more than 3 days of gill net harvest in all management areas.
The MFC agreed with DMF on continuing to allow large-mesh gill nets and voted to roll over the existing gill net management measures into Amendment 3. Why make these measures part of the FMP if they are not meant to be adhered too? Better yet, how can DMF expect fishermen to abide by an FMP if they are not willing to do the same! Seems to me like cutting the days of large-mesh gill net harvest is in fact, “phasing it out”, not continuing to allow a legal gear type.
By failing to adhere to the FMP, DMF has needlessly increased confusion and regulatory burden, in the commercial sector, once again, leading many fishermen to question whether DMF is truly acting in their best interest. One strong weather event could end pound net harvest overnight and three-day work weeks do not allow the gill net fishermen to keep ahead of migrating flounder. Not to mention losing the option to work with and not against any weather that might pop up during your three-day work week for gill netting or dealing daily with the weather to not miss a single trip limit while pound netting.
Commercial fishermen and DMF staff had a successful season last year, why are we changing it now?
Amendment 3 to the southern flounder FMP was working, why are we no longer following it?
And the biggest question is, are these changes legal?
Thomas Newman III