The N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission on Thursday denied a New Bern man’s petition to close North Carolina’s sounds and rivers to shrimp trawlers.
Several hundred commercial fishermen attended Thursday’s meeting in Raleigh to oppose the measure; that’s in addition to a crowd of nearly 700 that gathered at a July meeting in New Bern.
The hubbub over the measure raises the question: How did one man’s petition get this far?
“Anyone can request a petition be heard by the Marine Fisheries Commission,” said Commissioner Chuck Laughridge.
That right was granted by the Fisheries Reform Act of 1997, he said.
And Laughridge think it’s a good policy.
“These fisheries resources belong to everybody, so everybody has the right to participate in the management of them,” he said.
But others suggested the debate was a waste of time.
“It blows my mind, quite frankly, that we can put this much resources” into a single petition, said Elaine Crittenton, a member of the Carteret County Board of Commissioners. “It is unreasonable to expect these fishermen to come and defend their right to earn a living.”
Others in opposition to the measure suggested the petitioner, Tim Hergenrader, was working in concert with organizations such as the Coastal Conservation Association.
“It’s more than just one man,” behind the petition said Chris McCaffity, a commercial fisherman from Morehead City. “He’s just the mouthpiece.”
McCaffity added that commercial fishermen are constantly being called on to defend their industry.
“It’s one thing after another, and it’s bordering on harassment here,” he said.
Terry Pratt, of Bertie County, also suggested the Coastal Conservation Association was involved.
“It came under a single person’s name, but he’s in the CCA,” Pratt said of Hergenrader.
But Hergenrader said he was acting independently of any organized groups and with the backing of just a few friends.
“It’s a small group,” he said.
Hergenrader said it didn’t give him pause to file the petition. “It’s part of the process,” he said.
The commission voted 9-0 against the petition for rulemaking after nearly three hours of public comment and testimony.
Hergenrader filed his petition on June 19, calling for a moratorium on fishing inside the COLREGS line – an internationally agreed upon line that separates the ocean from the sounds and inland waterways.
“Contrary to what some are saying, this petition is not about ending shrimp trawling in North Carolina waters,” he said at the meeting in New Bern. “… It is simply about nursery areas.”
State fisheries laws do not allow trawling in designated primary and secondary nursery waters. Primary nurseries are most often upstream in the estuaries where fish are birthed; the secondary nurseries are the areas to which they migrate and grow toward maturity before heading out to sea.
It is Hergenrader’s contention that the entire sound areas and river mouths should be designated as secondary nurseries. Citing Department of Marine Fisheries data, he said that several finfish varieties – particularly Atlantic croaker, weakfish (gray trout) and spot – use these areas as nurseries and that their numbers are being threatened by the trawlers, primarily as a result of their loss to by-catch – that is, unwanted fish caught up in the nets along with the shrimp.
Several people at Thursday’s meeting criticized Hergenrader’s assumptions, saying they were not based on sound science.