Assembly passes bill on fishery permits
MOREHEAD CITY ? State fisheries authorities are one step closer to a management strategy designed to keep commercial striped bass fishermen from switching gears in the middle of the seasons.
The General Assembly Thursday passed legislation, now before Gov. Mike Easley, that authorizes the Marine Fisheries Commission to establish gear-specific permits for those in the commercial striped bass fishery.
The next step will be to develop a proposal to bring before the Marine Fisheries Commission and begin the rulemaking process, said Preston Pate, director of the Division of Marine Fisheries.
The permit may not be in place for the beginning of striped bass season in December, Pate said.
?It?s really not all that critical that we have the permit in place this year,? Pate said.
Most of the problems come in managing the quota between the beach haul seine fishery and the gill net fishery, Pate said. Because of overages in the beach haul seine fishery this past season, there will be no open season for that gear this year, he said.
The commercial striped bass fishery in the Atlantic Ocean has historically been a fishery of the Hatteras area, yet it has expanded as far south as Cape Lookout in recent years as the fish?s populations have rebounded.
North Carolina manages an annual Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission-imposed commercial striped bass quota by dividing it equally between three different gear types: beach haul seines, gill nets and ocean trawls. But for several years now, Marine Fisheries has had trouble with all three gear-types exceeding their one-third quota.
When one gear-type goes over its quota, the overage must be subtracted from the other gear types. This past year the beach seine fishery overshot its quota so badly that there were no fish available for the gill net fishery.
Additionally, fisheries officials said that some fishermen who fish under the haul seine season will, once the quota is caught, make minor modifications to their gear then fish under the gill net season as well.
Requiring the fishermen to designate a gear type will help authorities know how many participants will be fishing under what category so they can better regulate catch of the quota, Pate said.
The permit would cost fishermen $10 per year, he said.
It is a proposal that has the support of the North Carolina Fisheries Association, a commercial fishing trade group.
?We think it might help some of the folks to have a season,? said Sean McKeon, NCFA president.