Contact: Patricia Smith
Phone: (252) 726-7021
Date: Aug. 20, 2010

Marine Fisheries Commission Moves Forward With Bay Scallop Proposal

MOREHEAD CITY – The N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission is well on its way toward adopting a new way to determine when to open waters to bay scallop harvesting.

At a recent meeting in Wilmington, the commission tentatively adopted an amendment to the Bay Scallop Fishery Management Plan that sets up progressive management triggers, based on sampling data from 1984-85, prior to a red tide event in 1987-88.

“This amendment will provide more flexibility in opening bay scallop season when bay scallop abundance meets specific levels,” said Louis Daniel, director of the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries.

Every year, division biologists sample the abundance of bay scallops in different water bodies. Currently, bay scallop season opens only if the annual sampling shows the abundance of bay scallops in a given water body is at 100 percent of where it was in 1984-85.

Under the proposed new management method, limited harvesting could occur when division sampling indicates bay scallop abundance in a given water body is at 50 percent of the level it was in 1984-85. Trip limits and fishing days would progressively increase if sampling showed bay scallop abundance was at 75 percent or 125 percent of 1984-85 levels.

The draft amendment now goes to the secretary of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Joint Legislative Commission on Seafood and Aquaculture for review. It is scheduled to come back to the commission for final adoption in November, in time for the 2011 bay scallop season.

In other discussion and action last week, the Marine Fisheries Commission:

• Recommended Daniel implement a 10 percent bycatch allowance for weakfish up to 1,000 pounds per trip. The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission agreed to allow North Carolina to replace the current 100-pound commercial trip limit with this conservation equivalency. A proclamation implementing this measure was issued Tuesday and can be found on the division website at

• Recommended Daniel implement trip limits on certain snapper/grouper species in an effort to extend North Carolina’s commercial snapper/grouper fishing season.

The snapper/grouper fishery in the South Atlantic is under stringent federal regulations. Waters off southern Georgia and northern Florida are closed to all hook-and-line snapper/grouper fishing. Strict aggregate quotas are in place for other waters, so that if the limit on one species is caught, fishing closes for the entire shallow water grouper complex.

The commission asked Daniel to reissue an earlier proclamation implementing a 1,500-pound per day commercial trip limit on shallow water snapper/grouper species, of which 500 pounds per day can be gag or black grouper, and amend the commercial hog snapper harvest restrictions in the proclamation to allow a 150-pound per day commercial limit, up to 750 pounds per multi-day trip. The commission also asked Daniel to lower the recreational bag limit on hog snapper. A proclamation was issued Tuesday setting the recreational bag limit at 5 fish per person per day. The proclamation can be found on the division website at

• Authorized Daniel to delay opening Core Sound and modify the opening of Pamlico Sound Gill Net Restricted Area to large mesh gill net fishing to maximize harvest of southern flounder.

Core Sound may reopen Sept. 1 to large mesh gill net fishing under specific gear and harvest time restrictions detailed in a lawsuit settlement agreement. These restrictions include the use of low-profile nets of no more than 15 meshes in height that may be set only at night on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and retrieved the following morning. The restrictions limit fishermen to a total of 2,000 yards of gill net per vessel that may be set in 100-yard lengths with at least 25 yards between the separate lengths of net.

The Pamlico Sound Gill Net Restricted Area may open Sept. 1, with less restrictive gear measures, under provisions of a federal Incidental Take Permit (Section 10 Permit).

Daniel expressed concern that if he opened these areas as soon as allowed, the number of interactions with sea turtles would result in a quick closure of both areas so that fishermen missed the more productive flounder harvest that typically occurs later in the month.

The commission authorized Daniel to adjust the seasons based on his analysis of historical flounder landings in the areas, with the caveat that the Pamlico Sound Gill Net Restricted Area would remain open under the lawsuit settlement measures.

• Set up a Sea Turtle Advisory Committee, under a lawsuit settlement agreement.

Appointed were Jean Beasley, director of the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center, Surf City; Marvin Beacham, commercial fisherman, North River; Lori Brinn, environmental education specialist, Raleigh; Steve Everhart, Wilmington District manager, N.C. Division of Coastal Management; Matthew Godfrey, sea turtle biologist, N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission; Craig Harms, veterinarian for the N.C. Aquariums and the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center and associate professor at N.C. State University’s Center for Marine Sciences and Technology, Morehead City; Roger Harris, commercial fisherman, Atlantic; Robert Lorenz, recreational fisherman, Wilmington; David Pearson, president of Friends of State Parks, Swansboro; Andy Read, professor of marine conservation biology, Duke University Nicholas School of the Environment, Gloucester; Jerry Schill, former executive director of the N.C. Fisheries Association, New Bern; and David Smith, commercial fisherman, Carolina Beach.

• Agreed to ask the Joint Legislative Commission on Seafood and Aquaculture to support a bill to clarify that a new state law requiring fishery management plans to end overfishing within two years may not apply to the certain fishery management plans.

• Voted to send a draft amendment to the Southern Flounder Fishery Management Plan out for public comment. Dates of public meetings will be announced later.

By law, the commission must establish harvest reductions that end overfishing in two years and rebuild the fishery by 2015. Possible management options include increasing the size limit, decreasing the recreational bag limit, season closures and stiffer commercial gear restrictions.

• Received a report on overages from the annual commercial red drum cap from the 2009-10 fishing year.

North Carolina’s commercial red drum harvest operates under a 250,000-pound annual commercial cap that is divided into two sub-seasons, with 150,000 pounds allocated for Sept. 1 to April 30 and 100,000 pounds reserved for May 1 to Aug. 31. If the cap is exceeded in one harvest year, the overage is deducted from the subsequent harvest year.

Daniel told the commission that the 2009-10 red drum landings exceeded the commercial cap by 41,000 pounds. Therefore, the fall sub-season will open Sept. 1 with a 109,000-pound cap.