Sun Sets on NC Shrimp?
A possible reclassification of most internal waters of North Carolina will be the subject of a special meeting of the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries later this month.
This reclassification into “Permanent Secondary Nursery Areas” would be one of the biggest regulatory blows to the state’s commercial fishing industry - a complete ban on trawling in North Carolina waters.
Local fisheries advocates are urging lovers of fresh seafood and stakeholders in the trade to contact members of the Marine Fisheries Commission and oppose this reclassification. Not only would it put an entire fleet of historic fishing vessels out of business, citizens would have no more access to wild caught North Carolina shrimp.
The action comes after a petition calling for the ban was submitted by Timothy Hergenrader on June 20. Members of the community were taken by surprise when the MFC Chairman took swift action on the issue in June, calling a special meeting to consider the petition just 8 days after it was submitted. Nancy Fish, spokesperson for the Division, said MFC Chairman Bob Bizzell then opted to cancel the meeting and refer the petition to Finfish, Shellfish/Crustacean, Habitat and Water Quality and Sea Turtle Advisory Committees. These committees, after hearing public comment on July 30, will submit their recommendations to the MFC for possible action at their August 28 - 30 meeting.
According to a release from the Division of Marine Fisheries, the commission has 120 days from the date a formal petition for rulemaking is submitted to grant or deny the request. If the commission grants the petition, it will begin the rulemaking process, which will include a public comment period and at least one public hearing.
Summer time is shrimping season in the inland waters of North Carolina, which flow together to make up the second largest estuary in the country. The Pamlico Sound, merging with the Currituck, Albemarle, Core, Roanoke, Croatan, Bogue and Roanoke sounds, are prime grounds for the crustaceans. So, the fleet of trawlers, stacked with steel outriggers and armed with necessary gear (including Turtle Extruder Devices and the occasional observer), takes to the water.
It’s called it trawling, but fishermen also call it dragging, or haulin’ back. Trawling is the term used to describe the fishery where boats use the outriggers to dip nets in the water and scoop up the catch.
Currently, portions of internal waters are already classified as secondary nurseries and are prohibited trawling areas. Other areas, including oyster sanctuaries, are also off limits for trawling.
In addition to eliminating the catch of shrimp in the summer, a trawl ban would also cut out the blue crab fishery in the winter. Certain finfish catches would be mostly off the market, too.
Presently, Ocracoke Working Watermen’s Association has not developed a position statement on the matter, but representatives say they will take action to oppose the ban before it goes to the MFC. Fisheries advocate groups, including North Carolina Watermen United, are also scrambling to take a stand on such short notice in the height of the summer fishing season. A petition is online and has been shared and supported by local fisheries representatives and citizens, as well as visitors from as far away as Arizona.
Although Ocracoke does not have a trawl fleet, the Ocracoke Fish House buys seasonal shrimp from visiting fishermen, giving access to restaurants and consumers. In the summer, the wooden relics can be seen in the harbor as they anchor up on weekends to sell their catch and take a few days off from the water. (Jenny did an article about that last year. Read it here.)
Shrimp sales are an integral part of Ocracoke’s summer economy, as evidenced by Fletcher and Heather O’Neal, owners of Puddle Duck’s Seafood Steamer Pots. “My income and the economy of my surrounding communities depend on access to fresh, local seafood,“ said Heather O’Neal. “Furthermore, I am a consumer of fresh, local, wild caught seafood.” Wanting to serve their customers and their family the best product, the O’Neals say foreign and/or farm raised seafood is not an option.
Shrimp trawling makes up a big chunk of the distressed mainland Hyde‘s economy, according to the county‘s office of economic development and planning. Hyde County Planner Kris Noble said the trawl ban was discussed by the Hyde County Board of Commissioners at their July 2 meeting. Her office was directed to draft an opposing resolution to be heard at the Commissioners’ August 5 meeting. Neighboring Dare County Commissioners have also expressed opposition to the ban.
Research on the petition author turned up no contact information other than an email address published in the petition for rule change. However, an internet search for Timothy Hergenrader produces articles and editorials conveying his stance the controversial issue of game fish status for red drum, spotted sea trout and striped bass. His name was on a letter to the editor of the New Bern Sun Journal supporting Gamefish Designation.
His name also appeared when his residing county of Pamlico adopted a resolution to oppose game fish designation. He fired back by penning a special report for Compass News 360. In the articles, he alleged that North Carolina would not loose access to the three species because they could obtain fish from other states. He also asserted commercial fishermen receive subsidies - which is blatantly false. In his letter to the New Bern Sun, he admittedly gets his facts from the Coastal Conservation Association. “I’d rather listen to the CCA,” penned Hergenrader.
He is listed as an artist at a New Bern gallery. According to the website, Hergenrader is a native Nebraskan who’s desire to paint coastal scenes brought him to New Bern in 2004. One of his paintings is of Ocracoke Harbor dotted with traditional shad boats.
An email sent to the address listed on the petition, firstname.lastname@example.org was met with no reply. So, it is unknown if Hergenrader spoke with local community members, fishermen or their families when drawing up the petition. It is also unclear if he is aware that more than 90 percent of the shrimp consumed in the country is imported and banning local trawling will make that under-regulated market our means of obtaining the commodity.
Artist Mark Hierholzer, proprietor of Swan Quarter Art, is another artist that followed his heart to the area and trawlers are one of his biggest muses. Actually, he considers them an integral part of the landscape. He celebrates their shapes in his work and enjoys the bounty of fresh seafood as an added bonus.
“I think the ban is unconscionable and stupid,” said Hierholzer when asked . “Why put a bunch of people out of work and give local money to Thailand? Whoever this artist is should have his head examined,” said Heirholzer.
The advisory committee meeting will take place Tuesday, July 30 at 12:30 p.m. in the New Bern Riverfront Convention Center. Members of the public will be given three minutes to enter their comments.
If you'd like to know where to voice your opinion, click here for a list of contact information.