12/04/09 — Three Commission members resign

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Three Commission members resign

By Ryan Hanchett
Published in Sports on December 4, 2009 1:46 PM

PINE KNOLL SHORES -- Years of being ignored took their final toll on three members of the Southern Flounder Advisory Committee, and each handed in their respective resignation as a result.

Co-chairmen Joe Shute and Owen Lupton, along with committee member Ray Brown, each decided to step down at the Marine Fisheries Commission's monthly meeting Thursday morning.

Each man had served on the committee since its inception in 2001, and each were displeased with how the MFC has handled flounder-related issues since that time.

"The Marine Fisheries Commission has gone against all of our recommendations," Shute said following the meeting. "We have presented them with plenty of information and they have chosen not to take it into consideration. It's frustrating."

Problems began in 2005 when the advisory committee made its initial recommendation pertaining to flounder management. A plan that was submitted by the committee was redrafted after the public comment period and put in place by the MFC.

Since its inception, the plan has been tossed aside twice in order to allow for more late-season harvests.

"The commission needs to realize that some years the environmental factors favor the fish and in other years they favor the fisherman," said Lupton. "Flounder is the single, most-important commercial fishery in the state, worth millions of dollars. We can not afford to take chances with its management."

The commercial flounder season is scheduled to close on Nov. 30 each year under state guidelines. Last week, the MFC decided to extend the current season through Dec. 15 despite the committee's recommendation to close the season as usual.

"The flounder has been listed as being overfished for almost 30 years now," said Lupton. "Yet the species has never collapsed. There is clearly something wrong with the data, and there are several questions that need to be answered."

Answers have been hard to find in the maze of numbers and closed-door deals. Despite sharing a common interest, the advisory committee and the MFC have rarely seen eye-to-eye over the past five years. The commission has cited lagging landing numbers as their reasoning behind extending the flounder season by two weeks.

A similar move was made in 2007 despite opposition from the advisory committee.

"I don't know why you would have a committee, ask them for their recommendations and then ignore what they have to say," said Lupton. "The commission has so many species to think about and to divide their focus. The committee only has one species to put their efforts toward."

According to the numbers released by the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries, the cumulative number of flounder landings in North Carolina waters in 2008 totaled 2,602,020 pounds. The value of those landings was estimated at $5,649,542.

After the committee members handed in their resignations on Thursday, commissioner Anna Beckwith (who initially voted for the season extension) made her feelings clear in a prepared statement.

"I feel that the commission acted hastily in voting to extend the pound net season," said Beckwith. "Over a one hour phone conversation, and without consulting the advisory committee, the commission has circumvented the FMP process."

The Marine Fisheries Commission met again today.