The following was read into the record in May
of 2015 at my final NC MFC meeting, some clarifying notes have been added in italics.
“Our purpose as a
Commission should be to protect the resource as our primary objective. When the
resource can sustain harvest, all the user groups including commercial, recreational,
consumers and those who simply like to know the fish are out there should be
allowed to utilize the resource.
The problem is that we cannot continue to allow harvest at
current levels while ensuring the long term viability of the Southern Flounder
stock in NC.
During the initial FMP development in 2005 the indicated
reduction required to stop overfishing and achieve a sustainable harvest was
commission opted for an estimated 25% reduction through various management
The recreational sector did achieve some reductions in harvest
as compared to the 2005 levels.
implemented by the 2005 FMP had no impact on commercial landings which
continued to increase through 2009. In addition, the commission chose to twice
grant exceptions to the pound net fishery and allowed harvest in December in
contradiction to the standing FMP.
measures chosen by the commission, based on the best science at the time were
intended to end overfishing and rebuild the stock but they failed.
In 2009 another stock assessment was completed and accepted
Although that assessment
would not pass peer review today due to new information available on Southern
Flounder stock structure, it was the best available at the time.
Based on that information there was some cause for hope,
even though it was also clear that a reduction in the overall harvest was
needed to achieve a sustainable harvest.
Due to the hardships being faced by our commercial large
mesh gill net fishery (from interactions
with endangered sea turtles and newly required federal management measures
no further restrictions were placed on commercial gear types. The federally required
measures appeared to be enough to result in a harvest reduction of about 20%
which was assumed to be enough to end overfishing in two years and achieve a
Soon after implementation, exemptions from the “settlement
agreement” (federal rules required to mitigate the endangered species interactions
with large mesh anchored gill nets)
were granted to areas including
Albemarle, Croatan, Roanoke Sounds and an extra day of harvest was allowed
south of Beaufort inlet.
A decrease in harvest was seen in 2010 and 2011 across all
commercial gears, but analysis of commercial landings suggested lower
availability in the Albemarle Sound Management Area as the main reason for the
decline, not regulations.
Commercial harvest increased again in 2012 substantially.
This demonstrated that yet again the efforts
by the Commission to achieve a consistent harvest reduction across the
commercial sector and achieve an overall sustainable harvest level had failed.
During this same time recreational regulation did achieve some additional
Although the 2014 stock assessment was not approved for management,
I find the following reasons for concern and need for action:
The original FMP was developed to expand the
spawning stock biomass. The current biomass (based on 2014 information
) is stable meaning that all attempts to
manage the fishery have not resulted in an increase in biomass.
High fishing mortality on pre spawn fish is
occurring which can and apparently has limited the rebuilding of the stock by
limiting the reproductive potential.
An extremely high portion of the landings
consist of Age 0 and Age 1 immature fish. This is not good for the long term
sustainability of the stock. (Juvenile
The data does not indicate any year classes
moving through the population and the age structure is truncated.
Signs point to declines in recruitment and
abundance as well as availability to recreational fisherman.
Even though the 2014 stock assessment was unable
to model an open population, tagging studies indicate that our fish head south
and no real indication that the opposite is true (Meaning that we do not appear to receive fish from other systems
We also have new information that points toward
a substantial amount of fish being retained for personal consumption or
donations which are not tracked on trip tickets and therefore not included as a
source of removal in the assessments.
The original 2005 FMP includes a statutory requirement to
rebuild the stock within 10 years. There is enough information available from
the 2014 assessment to indicate that we have NOT rebuilt this stock during that
Many of the decisions made by this Commission over the last
10 years were due to concerns for the fisherman and the devastating socio
economic impacts that come from drastic cuts.
While I am highly sympathetic to the concerns and fears of
the commercial fishing industry, it is the duty of this Commission to take
steps that will rebuild Southern Flounder and ensure the long term viability of
To achieve this I view the
Commission as having two possible courses of action:
1) The first would put the central focus of the Commission
on job retention over stock health and require reductions across gear types
causing socio economic hardships across the board while likely increasing
discards dramatically to achieve reductions in catch BUT retain the appearance
2) The second route puts the central focus of the Commission
on the resource but requires a restructuring of the fishery to achieve a
measurable management harvest while still providing access to the resource and
consideration to discards, bycatch and protected species interactions.
Regardless of the path forward our purpose at this table is
to achieve a sustainable level of harvest and ensure the long term viability of
the stock. After 10 years of management I do see a critical need to move
-----Anna Beckwith --May, 2015
The result of the NC Fisheries Association
lawsuit on flounder management:
Below is a
quick summary of the management measures that were so incredibly controversial
at the time.
There were six proposals
put forth at the May 2015 Commission Meeting.
All are worth reading and many good ideas on
how to restructure the fishery were provided.
In the Nov.
2015 meeting the Commission voted to move forward the following management
size limit increase to 15 in
size for gill nets increased to 6 in
panels mesh size in pound nets increased to 5.75 in
These recommendations survived the lawsuit/injunction and
At this same
meeting, the Commission also passed the following management measures but they were
stopped by the lawsuit and never implemented:
flounder gill nets prohibited from Oct 16-Dec 31
southern flounder fishery closed from Oct 16 – Dec 31
quota corresponding to a 38% reduction
southern flounder gig fishery closure when pound net quota is reached.
A few thoughts from Anna on large mesh gill nets, pound
nets and gigs:
Large Mesh Gillnets
approved by the Commission, a controversial management measure was proposed to
ban anchored large mesh gill nets in 2016. The proposed measure read as
Large Mesh Anchored Gill Nets: Effective January 1 2016
large mesh anchored gill nets will be a prohibited gear in the taking and
possession of flounder in internal waters. (This
would still have allowed drop/strike/run around netting and properly deployed
drift nets with large mesh gill nets but would have eliminated “set” or
Pound nets are a good gear type. They allow release of undersized fish, have
limited mortality when interacting with protected species and could be managed
by quota and monitored reasonably well. This being said, there is room for additional
management consideration. I am not suggesting that all the ideas below are
appropriate or needed but that some may be worth discussing as part of the
needed restructuring of the fishery via an amendment. The
pound net permit application process is extremely concerning, almost
guaranteeing all applications to be approved.
It blows my mind that additional pound net permits continue to be
granted given the state of the southern flounder stock. Further
consideration of capacity by area and increasing required gaps between pound
nets should be considered to allow increased escapement by flounder to their
offshore spawning grounds.
additional management measures for consideration might
Construction of escape panels including increasing
the number or size.
Assess if the
location, type of webbing or placement can be altered to increase escapement.
Assess capacity by area; set max number
of pounds allowed per area.
Limit number of pound net permits and/or allowed harvest per
Limit number of pounds harvested per pound net
set each year.
Prohibit pound nets in crab spawning areas. (Already delineated near inlets, allowing flounder to escape into the ocean.)
Implement TAC (total allowable catch) by region,
recognizing seasonality in Northern, Central and Southern Zones.
Require daily reporting as condition of permit.
Moratorium on new pound net permits and permit
transfers until a sustainable harvest is achieved.
Allow only 4 days per week with a 15 inch size limit and trip limit of 36
flounder per valid SCFL on the boat with a max of 2 limits per boat.