Friday, January 21, 2011

Striped Bass Spill off North Carolina Coast

Recreational and commercial fishermen have clashed over an unusual situation which occurred off the coast of North Carolina.

On January 15, 2011, an overloaded fishing net prompted fishermen on a commercial trawler to release thousands of striped bass they caught off of Bodie Island, NC.

After towing through a school of striped bass, fishermen on the commercial trawler Jamie Lynn found the net was so full it was too heavy to bring onto the boat. In order to retrieve the net, the fishermen had to open it and release the fish, the boat captain said.

The boat captain estimated 3,000 to 4,000 fish were released from the net. Many recreational and commercial fishermen picked up the discarded fish. When Marine Patrol officers arrived on the scene, there were approximately 250 dead fish.

The N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries confirmed the specifics of the event through an eyewitness account and an interview with the boat captain.

In the days following the spill, recreational anglers and angling groups made a series of accusations, most claiming that commercial fishermen were deliberately high grading striped bass at sea.

As of 20 January, staff with the division was still investigating the incident but had been unable to confirm reports that commercial trawl fishermen were high-grading. High-grading occurs when a fisherman discards a previously-caught, legal-sized fish in order to keep a larger fish within the daily possession limit. While high-grading is not illegal, it is not an ethical fishing practice and the division does not condone it.

For this reason, the division plans to implement management measures designed to limit discard mortality when it reopens the striped bass trawl fishery for three days beginning January 24.

The division will replace the current 50-fish-per-day commercial trip limit, which has been in place for 15 years, with a 2,000-pound-per-day trip limit. To avoid the need to throw back dead fish, commercial fishermen will be allowed to transfer trip limits to other fishing vessels that hold a striped bass ocean fishing permit for the commercial trawl fishery. The transfers must be made in the ocean.

The new regulations will be implemented by a proclamation that will be released prior to the next opening. The N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission will review the actions at its Feb. 11 meeting in Pine Knoll Shores.

The division opens and closes North Carolina’s commercial ocean striped bass fishery and sets trip limits under a quota system set out in the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission Fishery Management Plan for Atlantic Striped Bass. The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission is a compact of 15 East Coast states that manages migratory fish in state waters (within three miles from shore).

North Carolina’s share of the coast-wide commercial ocean striped bass annual quota is 480,480 pounds. It is split evenly between three commercial fisheries: the trawl fishery, the gill net fishery and the beach seine fishery. Approximately 110,000 pounds remains of the 160,160-pound quota for the trawl fishery this year. This is the first time in several years that N.C. commercial fishermen have come close to catching their quota.

According to a 2010 Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission report, coast-wide commercial landings of striped bass in 2008 totaled more than a million fish; commercial discards were estimated at 395,400 fish. Coast-wide recreational landings in 2008 totaled more than 2 million fish. Recreational discards were estimated at more than a million fish.

Estimated discards are factored into stock assessments, and the most recent stock assessment for striped bass found that the species is healthy.

In a press release concerning the incident, the North Carolina Marine Fisheries Commission issued the following suggestions concerning ethical fishing:

 - It is incumbent upon all fishermen, commercial and recreational, to use common sense in the way they fish.

 - Commercial trawl fishermen should limit their tow times to avoid overburdened nets.

 - Recreational fishermen should practice ethical angling techniques.

 - Fishing responsibly today will help ensure there will be fish in the future.

source: N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission

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