Wildlife Resources declines herring moratorium
By Susan West Outerbanks sentinel
The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (WRC) has decided against implementing a moratorium on the harvest of river herring in the state's inland fishing waters.
Under rules approved by the WRC last week, anglers will be allowed to possess river herring measuring six inches or less in length.
Robert Curry, WRC chief of inland fisheries, said that the rule allows anglers to continue to use herring as bait for striped bass.
In October, the WRC proposed a moratorium on the harvest of herring from inland rivers, beginning in 2007. The WRC is the regulatory commission for the state's freshwater fisheries.
At that time, the commission also asked the North Carolina Marine Fisheries Commission (MFC) to approve a harvest ban in coastal waters.
River herring management falls under the regulatory purview of both commissions because herring live in the ocean but return to freshwater to spawn.
According to information from the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF), juvenile herring remain in freshwater or brackish water for their first growing season, and then migrate to saltier water when water temperatures begin to drop in the fall. Herring are capable of spawning when they reach six to 10 inches in length.
River herring include blueback herring and alewife. The most recent DMF stock status report classifies herring as overfished.
WRC said that continued harvesting of small herring doesn't jeopardize recovery of the stock because herring migrating to spawning grounds are usually longer than six inches.
Curry said, "We're still protecting the river herring in their spawning grounds."
Management of herring in coastal waters is directed by a fishery management plan approved by the MFC in 2000. That plan is being updated with a review by the MFC scheduled to begin later this spring.
Pound nets on the Chowan River and gill nets in the Albemarle Sound region account for the majority of commercial landings. The fishery operated under a 300,000 total allowable catch limit from 2000 through 2005.
Presented with information showing no improvement in the herring population, the MFC rejected a harvest moratorium at its November meeting, but approved emergency interim rules until the updated management plan is completed. Those rules reduced the quota to 100,000 pounds for this year's fishing season.
The Coastal Conservation Association, a recreational fishing industry organization, criticized the MFC for that decision, saying it was "ludicrous to continue to harvest fish whose numbers are critically low...After all, dead fish in a cooler have zero chance to spawn and rebuild the stock."