08/16/05 — Citizens eye shrimp trawling plan

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Citizens eye shrimp trawling plan

By Renee Carey
Published in News on August 16, 2005 1:46 PM

They came to listen to comments on shrimp trawling. But mostly they heard concerns about fish -- or the absence of fish -- in the state's coastal waters.

Representatives of the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries held a public hearing Monday at the Wayne Center on proposed regulations for the state's shrimp harvest. This would include where, when and with what equipment shrimp could be taken in 2006.

The stage for the hearing was set not so much by the Division of Marine Fisheries staff's presentation of records and recommendations but by expressions of concerns over the effects of trawling on the state's fishing stocks.

Dr. Keith Hinnant, a Goldsboro dentist, spoke in behalf of the North Carolina Coastal Conservation Association which represents thousands of recreational fishermen. While endorsing some of the Marine Fisheries proposals, he called for greater efforts "to protect overfished and recovering species."

He also expressed concerns over the makeup of the Shrimp Advisory Committee and some of its recommendations. Hinnant noted that nine of the committee members have "a vested interest in maintaining the status quo for shrimp trawlers." Two of the three recreational fishermen on the committee have resigned "to protest the makeup and votes" of the committee, he said.

Dr. Hinnant called for more information and more stringent controls to reduce bycatch in trawling operations. Bycatch refers to the small fish, crabs and other marine life destroyed by trawlers.

Frank Brown of Duplin County lamented that increasingly "there are no fish to catch," due in large part to the damage trawler "tickler chains" do to the bottoms of waterways. These are chains that are pulled ahead of the trawl nets to cause shrimp to jump up from the bottom and be scooped into the net.

Rocky Mount recreational fisherman Donald Everett expressed concern that trawlers are responsible for the loss of flounder and other finfish. "They can keep and sell all the 14-inch flounder they catch and the ones they catch under 14 inches are dead when they are released," he contended.

He also said the Marine Fisheries Commission's advisory committees' recommendations to protect flounder had been largely ignored.

Hain Ficken of Mount Olive wanted to know the effect banning of trawling in other states had had on fishing stocks. A staff spokesman said that there had been no obvious change when this was done in South Carolina.

Others noted that they could travel to Virginia and enjoy excellent fishing while fish had been steadily disappearing from North Carolina's coastal waters.

Andrea Heekin, a Goldsboro businesswoman and state and national CCA official, expressed interest in seeing better recreational angler representation on the Marine Fisheries Advisory committees.

Gene Braswell, a Goldsboro attorney, suggested that consideration be given to declaring a moratorium on trawling and compensating commercial fishermen for their losses. He was told that this had been proposed in the past for a limited area on the southeast coast of the state "but it never went anywhere."

Marine Fisheries Commissioner Rusty Russ rose at the conclusion of the meeting to express appreciation to those who came. He said members of the commission "are not there to do the job by ourselves."

"We take your input and that of the staff and do the best we can for what we hope is right," he said.

A number of commission and advisory committee members attended the hearing, which was held in Goldsboro at the suggestion of Ray Brown, who has served for a number of years as a member of advisory committees.