North Carolina Marine Fishery Mismanagement
North Carolina’s coast is home to roughly 2.5 million acres of estuarine waters, 1.5 million of which are within the Albemarle-Pamlico Region. It’s here where hundreds of species of fish and other marine life grow and feed until old enough to venture to the ocean or migrate along the coast.
Although this network of sounds, wetlands and waterways is the largest lagoon on the East Coast and the 2nd largest estuary in the U.S., its long-term sustainability and function as nursery habitat is in jeopardy.
Ineffective policy, mismanagement, unsustainable fishing practices, habitat loss and water quality degradation are threatening marine fisheries and depleting some of our most important fish, including southern flounder, striped bass, and weakfish. Over the last several decades, the state has consistently failed to enact precautionary, meaningful rules that would lead to the recovery of our state’s valuable marine fisheries resources.
Historically, North Carolina’s sounds and estuaries were highly productive nursery areas that provided vital habitat to juvenile fish before they mature and have an opportunity to spawn and reproduce. Shrimp trawling is highest in North Carolina’s sensitive sounds, where trawling destroys fragile habitat areas and devastates substantial quantities of juvenile fish. For every pound of shrimp caught in North Carolina waters by shrimp trawls, about four pounds of finfish and other marine life are caught, killed and shoveled overboard after being culled from shrimp harvests. This, and other destructive fishing practices, has severely depleted the productivity of our sounds and estuaries.
In 1997 (the year the Fisheries Reform Act was adopted in N.C.), total commercial landings for the 6 species below were 24.7 million pounds compared to 5.2 million pounds in 2018, a decline of 79%.
- Atlantic croaker – 85% decline
- kingfishes – 54% decline
- striped mullet – 47% decline
- spot – 94% decline
- southern flounder – 88% decline
- bluefish – 78% decline
We believe that the Fisheries Reform Act has failed to rebuild or restore any North Carolina fish stock and has actually resulted in declines in virtually all fishery resources, some to the point of harvest moratoriums or endangered species status. Substantive changes are necessary to turn this tide.
Sound Solutions Marine Resources Reform and Management
Because we need better management practices for sound and estuarine ecosystems, NCWF efforts center on a science-based approach to habitat, management and gear. We’re striving for sustainable marine resource conservation by promoting management that chooses long-term sustainability over short term economics. We believe that long-term sustainability is in the best interest of North Carolina and her many commercial and recreational fisherman and associated businesses. By managing fisheries based on sound scientific principles, extreme measures such as net bans may be unnecessary.
Foundational Tenets of Sound Solutions
- Habitat: Strengthen protection of the waters and habitats that make up North Carolina’s inner coast, as well as those that flow into our sounds.
- Management: Improve the way NC’s marine fisheries and habitats are managed and regulated.
- Gear: Influence changes to destructive fishing gear and unsustainable methods.
Let ‘Em Spawn, Before They’re Gone
Hundreds of millions of young fish – too young to spawn or reproduce even a single time – are wasted and discarded as bycatch each year by indiscriminate fishing methods like large shrimp trawls.
The only way to sustain healthy populations is to protect reproductive potential-Let ‘Em Spawn! Restoring these coastal fisheries would benefit commercial and recreational fishermen, not to mention coastal tourism and coastal communities.
“Let Them Spawn” offers a straightforward and common-sense approach to fisheries management in North Carolina through the use of minimum size limits or slot limits for several recreational and commercial fish species to address critical declines. This would ensure that fish otherwise harvested would have had the opportunity to spawn at least once.
Using scientifically sound principles and economically forward-thinking, we’re working to increase fish stocks and rebuild a sustainable harvest off the N.C. coast. How? By introducing and helping pass bills based on sound science and reasonable reforms to manage fish populations sustainably.
We’ve worked hard with legislators from the Piedmont to the mountains to move our ideas forward and create support by engaging their constituents on the issue.
Our advocacy and outreach initiatives help inform all North Carolinians—including those who do not live in coastal counties. This increased awareness and education about depleting fish stocks has helped change the conversation and future of coastal fishing in North Carolina.
Defining a commercial fisherman based on commercial activity rather than simply holding a commercial license is critical. Presently, licenses can be bought and sold on the internet and many license holders fail to report their catches or buy the license to avoid recreational limits. This situation allows individuals, not dependent on fishing for a living, to compete with bona fide commercial fishermen. By defining a commercial fishermen and allowing only those individuals to harvest fish with commercial gear and in commercial quantities we reduce bycatch, over-harvest, and conflict while protecting the culture and heritage of commercial fishing in North Carolina.
What We're Doing
One Mission, One Commission
Merge Marine Fisheries Management within North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission to Eliminate Redundancy and Improve Natural Resource Management Efficacy
Efficiency and science-based management are critical aspects of any professional natural resource management program. North Carolina has two agencies with this responsibility, the North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission (WRC) and Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF). While their missions are closely aligned, having two separate management entities creates duplication, ambiguity, redundancy and inefficiency. It is become abundantly clear and essential to bring all fish and wildlife management in North Carolina under one umbrella agency to:
- Streamline or eliminate duplicate management functions and responsibilities within agencies.
- Remove economics as top priority in fish and wildlife management.
- Reduce red tape to allow swift and timely decision-making.
- Eliminate species co-management.
- Improve sustainability.
- Decrease or remove politics from natural resource management.