NC Marine Fisheries Commission Meeting Recap

The N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission met in-person this week in New Bern. 

The meeting began at 6 p.m. on Wednesday evening with 35 speakers showing up to offer public comment. Many of the speakers made the trip to New Bern to offer support for False Albacore Management Rulemaking and express concerns about the proliferation of water column oyster leases around Topsail Island. The business meeting was held on Thursday.


The Commission voted 5-4 in favor of Option 3 of the proposed rule language for rulemaking on False Albacore management. This directs DMF staff to begin working on rules that simply put some very liberal guardrails on a fishery that is very important to the fishing public. The motion was made by Commissioner Tom Roller and seconded by Commissioner Robert McNeill. In support of his motion, Roller argued, "Let's have some stopgap measures to protect this valuable fishery until we have better science. Quite frankly, I don't think we can afford to wait anymore." Roller challenged his fellow commissioners to get on the right side of history by taking a precautionary approach now before the fishery gets in trouble. Something we have rarely seen from past commissions.

Other commissioners argued in support of a wait and see approach. Commissioner Sara Gardner, a for-hire guide in an at-large seat, argued that the fishery was not overfished or overfishing occurring and that rulemaking at this time had the potential to disenfranchise the commercial sector. "Nobody has more at stake if I lose my albie fishing" she stated, "but I do trust in the fact that it is good shape now, and we can react should there be a situation."

Commissioner Doug Rader, in the scientist's seat, cautioned against following this reactionary approach yet again. "I have watched the cycle of inadequate science lead to inadequate management. Ultimately, this leads to overfishing once the catastrophe is in hand. And so, when you have an opportunity to carefully, thoughtfully think through putting in place the framework to be able to achieve a longer-term goal, without going through that collapse and hurting a ton of people, you are remiss not to consider that."

The proposed rule would set a trigger for management action by the Commission and the DMF Director if combined landings surpassed 200% of the current five-year average. The motion passed 5-4.

Several states in the Northeast are watching this very closely and are poised to follow the lead of North Carolina. Commissioners agreed that this should be a coastwide stock, but as Commissioner Roller stated, "I don't see how we get there without (NC) being a leader."


The commission voted to approve the DMF recommended actions to end overfishing and begin to restore the overfished stock using weekend closures for commercial harvest that are estimated to achieve a 34.9% reduction from 2019 commercial landings. We did raise the question of how this would have any measurable effect on commercial landings without a set quota, and several commissioners agreed. There is little reason to believe this will meet the 34.9% reduction needed to end overfishing and begin to rebuild the stock, but they expressed hope that it would achieve some level of harvest reduction.

The motion also supported the DMF recommendation of a 50% reduction in the recreational bag limit for mullet from 200 fish per day to 100 fish per day with a higher vessel limit for for-hire guides.


The commission voted in favor of a revised DMF recommendation to send the proposed area closures to shrimp trawling out to the MFC Advisory Committees for further input before bringing the proposal back to the MFC for final approval at their May meeting. The proposal would add 12 new areas that would be closed to shrimp trawling in support of the CHPP goal of protecting and restoring sub-aquatic vegetation (SAV), and that modified closure lines include a buffer to protect SAV habitat from physical disturbance, turbidity increases, and sedimentation. The ecosystem functions provided by SAV and the negative impacts that bottom disturbing gear can cause to SAV are well-documented.


The Commission passed a motion to have Division staff look into sources of funding, including the Commercial Fishing Resource Fund, and other methods of collecting bycatch data, for further consideration by the commission.

While DMF has conducted several studies on shrimp trawl vessels using observers to characterize discards in the shrimp trawl fishery, DMF determined these studies are “inadequate for reliably quantifying discards in the shrimp trawl fishery” and therefore deemed them unusable for management. The best option to quantify bycatch is with an onboard observer program. 


The Marine Conservation Fund Committee recommended approval of a request from DMF staff for a $40,000 grant to assist the US Fish & Wildlife Service hatchery in Edenton. The additional funds will allow the hatchery to produce an additional 100,000 phase 2 striped bass for the joint stocking program. The Commission voted unanimously to approve the release of the funds which the Division will use to stock 150,000 phase 2 striped bass into the Albemarle Sound and 50,000 in the Cape Fear River this year.


Commissioner Robert McNeill, in a recreational fisherman seat, announced that, due to increasing business and family responsibilities, he would be stepping down from the Commission. He expressed how rewarding his four years of service had been and offered his thanks and continued support to his fellow commissioners and DMF staff for their efforts. CCA NC thanks Commissioner McNeill for his service on the Commission and his unwavering support for conservation of our coastal resources. The Governor will be charged with appointing someone to serve the remainder of McNeill's current term.

Commissioner Mike Blanton, in a commercial fisherman seat, expressed again his continued concern for the blue catfish populations that are taking over the Albemarle Sound fishery. This is an invasive species that is a known predator of other important native fish, particularly striped bass. He urged the commission and DMF staff to devote more attention to this growing problem and work on strategies to reduce the population of blue catfish that are a serious impediment to the rebuilding of depleted striped bass in this region.

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