Committees recommend against new shrimp trawling restrictions
Posted January 17
Updated January 19
New Bern, N.C. — Advisory committees to the North Carolina Marine Fisheries Commission on Tuesday recommended against a petition to restrict shrimp trawlers operating in coastal sounds after hearing from hundreds of commercial fishermen.
The North Carolina Wildlife Federation had petitioned the state – the only one on the East Coast that allows shrimp trawling in its sounds and estuaries – to reduce the size of trawler nets, limit how long nets could be pulled in the water, permit shrimping only three days per week and eliminate night-time shrimping.
An estimated 1,000 people attended a meeting in New Bern Tuesday to be heard on the proposition.
"We’re losing hundreds of millions of juvenile fish to shrimp trawling," said David Knight, a policy consultant for the Wildlife Federation. "These waters are public resource waters, and they are open for all the citizens. Right now, the citizens are not being able to benefit from the waters because the shrimp trawling is taking all the juvenile fish."
Commercial fishermen said, however, that stricter regulations could take them out of the water instead.
"I'd have to find another job, but not much jobs where we're from," said Vernon Guthrie, a commercial fisherman from the tiny community of Davis along Core Sound. "(Being a) commercial fisherman is our livelihood, what we know, what we've done our whole life."
Guthrie, 60, started plying North Carolina's coastal waters almost five decades ago with his grandfather. He said he rarely catches fish in his shrimp nets.
"It ain’t right. They talk about creating jobs, but they're trying to put us out of work as hard they can so people can play," he said. "Everybody loves seafood, but they want to put us out of business. I don’t understand it."
"There’s enough fish for everybody," said Johnny Flowers, 64, a commercial fisherman from Swan Quarter. "My whole life depends on the water. I’ve been doing this for 37 years, and this is it."
Knight denied proponents of the rules are trying to put Flowers, Guthrie and others out of business.
"This is a science-based petition that’s trying to be as fair as possible," he said. "It’s nowhere near a ban on shrimp trawling like they’re saying. That’s just untrue."
Aundrea O’Neal, who works at a fish house in Beaufort, said commercial fishermen wouldn't be the only people affected by a drop in shrimping, noting it plays a vital role in the coastal economy.
"The fuel man, the grocery store, even right down to McDonald's, it's a domino effect," O'Neal said, noting her business sold 31,000 gallons of fuel for shrimp boats in the past week alone.
The Wildlife Federation and recreational fishermen are misguided in targeting shrimpers in their conservation efforts, she said.
"What they don’t realize are the fisherman are the most conservative. They’ve done it for years. They want to pass it down. It’s their heritage," she said.
A final decision by the Marine Fisheries Commission is expected next month.