The War on NC Commercial Fishermen | Eastern North Carolina Now

My husband, Hal, and I enjoy fresh, local, North Carolina seafood, but we don't fish.  Hal once did, but I've never caught a fish, crab, or shrimp.  (I did dig clams once when some friends showed me how.)  However, we still enjoy our seafood by visiting restaurants in New Bern, Oriental, Beaufort, Morehead, Swansboro and other nearby towns, and by shopping at B&J Seafood Market on Route 70 near New Bern.

Do you enjoy your NC seafood in similar ways?  If so, you'll probably want to know about the war on commercial fishermen (and women) that is currently being waged and has been for years.  Some years ago, the NC General Assembly established the NC Division of Marine Fisheries in order to separate themselves from this hotly debated issue and put the regulation of our state's fisheries resources into the hands of folks who are better acquainted with the issues involved.  There are a couple of groups that are forever "yapping at the heels" of the Division trying to get them to regulate our commercial fishermen more and more.  One of the worst offenders is the Coastal Conservation Association of North Carolina which is frequently referred to as the CCA.  The CCA's tool kit includes innuendo, half-truths, and outright lies.

If you go to CCA's website (ccanc.org) and read their NC Fisheries Committee's report called "The Hidden Cost of Destructive Fishing Gear in North Carolina," the chances are you'll get a very warped view of what shrimping in NC's estuaries is doing to the "nursery" areas where baby finfish can hide while they grow large enough to cope with the larger underwater population.  Let's look at some examples, shall we?

The CCA report speaks of "the massive shrimp trawling bycatch that occurs in North Carolina and the impacts that it has on the species within the bycatch."  It also talks about "Bycatch Reduction Devices" (BRDs)  -- exactly what it sounds like; devices designed to reduce the critters caught accidentally when fishing for something else -- and says, "BRDs are ineffective in separating shrimp-sized juvenile fish from the shrimp and that is why bycatch ratios are so high."  And further, it makes it sound as if the really big shrimp boats that can work in the ocean are working rigged exactly the same way in our sounds and are tearing them up and doing all kinds of damage.

How close to correct are these things?  Not very.  Let's take a look

"Ineffective" Bycatch Reduction Devices (BRDs)?  "So high" bycatch ratios?  Ocean worthy boats rigged for the ocean operating in the sounds?  Give us a break from FAKE NEWS, please!

The truth is that in 1992, North Carolina became the first state to require the use of finfish excluders in shrimp trawlers and did it prior to any federal requirement for such devices.

The truth is that in 2015, North Carolina became the first state to require the use of two finfish excluders each of which had to be able to reduce the finfish bycatch by at least 30%.

The truth is that in 2019, North Carolina became the first state to reduce the bycatch of finfish by nearly double that of federal requirements.  It achieved that remarkable outcome by requiring all shrimp trawlers working in the Pamlico Sound and its tributaries to use a combination of bycatch reduction devices that had been shown to reduce bycatch of finfish by 40% to 50% more than the previous requirements.

I think it's safe to say that North Carolina is the best in the nation at this type of bycatch reduction.  So much for getting truthful information from the CCA.

Shrimping in North Carolina has problems alright, but they're entirely different problems from the ones the likes of CCA dreams up.  The biggest problem is that commercial fishermen who shrimp are being driven out of business by over regulation.  In 1997, there were 962 boats in the NC commercial fleet capable of shrimping.  By 2020, there were only 389 such boats left.  What does that mean in human terms?

It means that hardworking commercial fishermen and women have been put out of business.  It means that their sons and daughters cannot follow in their footsteps as they followed in their parents' footsteps.  It means that many of the people who supply their needs and help get their "product" to market are put out of business, too.  In addition, it means that you and I, fellow citizen of North Carolina, and the visitors to our ocean areas don't have nearly as much access to succulent, local North Carolina shrimp as we once did.  Things are getting worse, not better.

I do so enjoy starting a meal with shrimp cocktail, or having a light lunch or dinner which features shrimp salad, or taking my time over a dinner that features sautéed shrimp with lemon pepper sauce.  Yum!  Oh, and have you had the dish called "Angels on Horseback?"  (Each "Angel" has a shrimp and a scallop and is wrapped in bacon.)  Delicious!  Now, imagine not being able to get local shrimp.  Imagine having to do without these delicacies, or alternatively, having to buy imported shrimp from far away (and perhaps dirty) waters.  It's not a pretty picture, is it?

My friends, it's not just shrimp, it's all fresh NC seafood that's at risk.  If you want to maintain access to it, and if you want to see fair play restored to our commercial fishermen, pay attention and speak up.  Write to the North Carolina Fisheries Association (for fair, science based regulation for both commercial and recreational fishermen in order to preserve and enjoy our resources fairly) and ask them to send you their weekly newsletter.  Send the request to aundrea@ncfish.org.

If you'd like to discuss this with me,
I can be reached at raynor@cctaxpayers.com.




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