Rotary Club hears argument for shrimp industry regulation
By Matt Caulder
Published in News on August 21, 2013 1:46 PM
Death threats, police escorts and plain-clothed bodyguards were just some of the experiences Tim Hergenrader described Tuesday for the Goldsboro Rotary Club while it listened to a panel discussion on the need for shrimp industry regulation.
"I got a call from the director of marine fisheries saying they had received information saying the guys from Pamlico were gonna get me," Hergenrader said, describing the day his petition to the North Carolina Marine Fisheries Commission to regulate commercial shrimping in fish nursery areas was heard.
Hergenrader told Rotary Club members how he met with police at the New Bern Police Department substation on Martin Luther King Boulevard and was taken to the New Bern Convention Center in a police cruiser.
"They snuck me in the back door where I met two plainclothes officers," he said. "They went everywhere with me that day, they even checked the bathroom to make sure it was clear."
His petition was defeated earlier this month, but he is not giving up the fight for fishing reform.
"They know we are here and we aren't going away," he said.
At the club's weekly lunch meeting at Lane Tree Golf Course, Rotarians heard from a panel of commercial shrimping reform advocates about the need for regulations in the industry.
The problem with coastal North Carolina shrimping, according to the panelists, is the lack of regulation on inshore waters causing the death of millions of fish each year.
They explained the fish are dying when they are caught in shrimping nets and then dragged through the water.
The fish, referred to as "bycatch," are not allowed to be kept and sold and must be thrown back into the water, even if dead.
On solution the group is advocating for is the regulation of net sizes, similar to Louisiana, the largest domestic shrimp producing state at 110 million pounds last year.
"In Louisiana they only allow 50-foot nets," said Ray Brown with the Goldsboro Rotary. "In North Carolina they don't have a limit. They'll be out dragging 280 feet of nets across the (Pamlico Sound). They line up likes combines in a corn field."
Greg Hurt, president of the North Carolina chapter of the Coastal Conservation Association and a recreational fisher, spoke at the event about his experiences fishing in the Pamlico Sound with his family.
"I followed behind this shrimping boat and just saw fish after fish coming under the boat, belly up gasping in the water," he said.
Dr. Eb Pesci, a microbiologist at East Carolina University laid out the numbers of fish being caught in shrimp nets each year.
"I am a microbiologist at East Carolina and when I'm working I like to fish, and when I'm not fishing I like to think about fishing, so I'm going to give you a little math lesson today," Pesci said. "For every pound of shrimp caught about four-and-a-half pounds of bycatch are caught in the nets."
Pesci rounded that number down to four pounds, saying it was a good average to work with.
"I said you wouldn't need a calculator for this lesson so four pounds is a good number," he said.
Six million pounds of shrimp were caught commercially last year, making 24 million pounds of bycatch, about half of which are the big three recreational inshore fish in the Pamlico Sound -- croaker, spot and grey trout, he said.
The fish caught during shrimping are mainly the "fingerling" juvenile fish, a pound of which is about 20 fish, which, according to Pesci's calculations, means that about 240 million croaker, spot and grey trout were caught by shrimpers last year.
The question, he said, becomes what kind of difference does that make.
"How many of you have ever caught striped bass south of the Roanoke (River)?" Pesci said. "Then you have been fishing stocked bass. Three hundred thousand striped bass are stocked in North Carolina rivers every year. So this is indirect evidence of the impact of the shrimping bycatch. If 300,000 fish a year make such a big difference, wouldn't 240 million?"
Dr. Chris Elkins served on the North Carolina Marine Fisheries Commission, a nine-member voting group that decides on regulations for commercial fishing in North Carolina.
"There are three recreational seats, three commercial seats, one scientist seat and two at-large seats, and four of the nine seats must have at least 50 percent of their yearly income be from commercial fishing," Elkins said. "Have you ever heard of a commission like that?"
Elkins said that basically the fishers were regulating themselves.
"If the elevator industry regulated themselves I'm not sure you'd be on that elevator," he said, adding that every vote splits five to four in favor of the commercial fishers and nothing ever changes.
State Sen. Louis Pate, R-Wayne, said that he did not realize how critical the situation was with coastal shrimping in North Carolina and acknowledged that more oversight could be key to improving the situation to allow commercial shrimpers and recreational fishers to coexist peacefully.