Now I know how the British felt watching the Spanish Armada sail into English waters in July of 1588. King Philip II commissioned them to invade England with the intent of overthrowing Queen Elizabeth I. They were trying to make a point for Spain. Now I know what it must have looked like with ships lined up across the horizon. Pretty scary.
The Armada of Trawlers sweeping the river in front of me is trying to make a point that is not lost on those of us who have homes along this mighty river. The point is a great big middle finger to all who sport fish in the Neuse.
The Neuse River is about three miles wide where our house is, between Camp Don Lee and Oriental. Brackish water yields flounder, shrimp, crabs, bluefish, trout, croaker and many other fish for our fishermen. Little boys with poles on the end of the piers and old men lowering their boats off lifts for years have been able to catch supper in just a few hours. That happens less frequently now.
In the reading I have done, each of these trawlers drag nets that are about 200 feet long. They mostly are shrimping, but for every pound of shrimp netted there are about 4 pounds of unintentional bycatch that is simply tossed. Some sources raise the poundage of that bycatch to a ratio of 1 pound for every 20 pounds of the aforementioned fish. The river is left depleted while even the youngest, smallest fish are entrapped and killed. There is something wrong with this picture.
An official of CCA, an advocacy group of concerned sport fishermen, told a friend that the shrimp trawlers are hitting the mouth of the Neuse hard right now. He told our friend that these trawlers are catching a lot of shrimp but, unfortunately, the market is so bad most of it is going unsold and into freezers. As of my writing this piece, the Armada of Trawlers numbers around 18. They came upriver night before last and have fished 24/7 since that time. They came in the cloak of darkness, lights beaming across the horizon stealthily searching for their prize.
I have nothing against commercial fishermen. I know they have to make a living. But I will say I think there is enough for all of us until some of us get greedy. It's even worse when the trawling activity is harmful to the eco-systems of the river. No wonder there are fewer fish for catching. No wonder flounder season is so restricted. If you look at the fisheries regulations it says that flounder fishing is not allowed in 2022 except from 12:01 am. September 1, until 11:59 pm. on September 30. Think about it. Four weeks. One flounder per person fishing. After vacation season. After camps are closed. And when most schools have already started. There will be few children fishing on piers. Few old men lowering their boats into the water. The flounder are so depleted, their endangered status limits their availability. And heaven forbid that one is snagged on a line dropped in the water. The one who pulls it in, if caught by the Wildlife officers that patrol these waters, is fined heavily.
There is a phenomenon that happens along the shoreline in front of us that is called, Jubilee. It is a time in the hot summer, when the water is very still and oxygen levels are low in the river. The fish, crabs, and shrimp seem stunned as they come close to the water's edge and simply hang there for hours. You can see the shape of the flounder as they slide under the sand. There have been years when all you needed was a bucket, a net, and a gig to gather the bounty of the sea for an all-you-can-eat meal no one on the planet could top. In the 55 years we have had a home on this river, I have only seen this twice. Now it would be criminal to gig the flounder if Jubilee happened outside the regulated time frame of catching flounder. I guess the fish don't know the rules.
I don't understand a lot about politics, but I do know the difference between right and wrong. And I think this kind of trawling in the Neuse is wrong. Somewhere money is at the root of this problem. PACs and Lobbyists and Influence Peddling are in here somewhere. This is a problem that needs fixing. You, dear Marine Fisheries people, are smart. And you Legislators act like you're smart too. This is on you. Fix it.
Lib Campbell is a retired Methodist pastor, retreat leader and hosts the website: avirtualchurch.com. She welcomes comments at email@example.com.