Shrimp is Still King

Megan M. Spencer
Bridgot Denise, out of Wanchese displays her nets and bycatch-reduction devices.
Bridgot Denise, out of Wanchese displays her nets and bycatch-reduction devices.
Photos by Megan M. Spencer
Trawlers turn out in protest; committees recommend denial of the trawl ban petition.

Members of four Marine Fisheries Advisory /Groups voted unanimously last week to recommend denial of a petition to designate inland waters of North Carolina as primary secondary nursery areas – thus keeping local shrimp on tables and commercial trawlers in business.

In a symbolic protest of solidarity, at least two dozen trawl boats steamed up the Neuse River and anchored up in the waters in front of the New Bern Riverfront Convention center on Tuesday, July 30. Many had their outriggers extended to show off their nets and by catch-reduction gear. Small skiffs ferried crew members to shore to attend the meeting. Some shrimpers opted to stay on their vessels, waving at passersby who stopped to see the unusual sight in the river.

In front of the Civic Center, advocates passed out stickers bearing a wooden trawler with the caption, “NC Seafood for all, DENY the PETITION.” Inside, watermen joined their families, neighbors, local business owners and fellow seafood industry stakeholders as they gathered to hear petition author Tim Hergenrader present his request for rulemaking that would  designate inland waters of North Carolina as primary nursery area and prohibit the fishery. DMF officials estimated around 700 people came to Tuesday’s meeting. Judging by those sporting stickers, there weren’t many people there that supported Hergenrader’s petition. 

A ten-year-old girl and third generation of a shrimping family came to show her support.
A ten-year-old girl and third generation of a shrimping family came to show her support.

Those showing up on time for the 12:30 meeting soon found they would have to wait more than two hours to have their turn on the floor.  

The audience was sternly warned not to heckle or clap, and to refrain from outbursts of any kind. Numerous law enforcement officials were on hand to escort any non-compliers out of the meeting. But the fishermen community remained silent. There was a palpable, somber respect for the long procedure while attendees waited patiently for their time to talk.

The first order of business for the joint meeting of the DMF Sea Turtle, Finfish, Habitat and Water Quality, and Shellfish/Crustacean advisory committees was to swear in three new commissioners for the Marine Fisheries Commission, as appointed by Gov. Pat McRory. Mark Gorges, Charles Laughridge III and Paul Rose took their seats, replacing former commission members Bradley Styron, Rob Bizzell and Chris Elkins.

After Anna Beckwith, current MFC co-chair,  explained the meeting process, it was time for the Nebraskan native Hergenrader, who is now a resident of New Bern, to present his petition. Speaking with him, and many times for him, was Ray Brown, whose name is not on the petition. Hergenrader introduced Brown as a “kindred spirit.” In an email following the meeting, DMF PIO Trish Smith said Brown is a recreational fisherman who has been active in fisheries management issues and he sits on the Shrimp Fishery Management Plan Advisory Committee.

Hergenrader took the first few sentences to address local “counter petitions,” calling their allegations “blatantly false.” He said his petition to designate inland waters as a primary nursery area was “not about ending trawling or access to local seafood.” The audience remained silent. Hergenrader would repeat this contradiction throughout the petition review process, as members of the advisory committees asked questions. “My petition is about primary designations,” insisted Hergenrader repeatedly.

But in his petition, it clearly states:  “those to be affected by adoption of this proposed rule include individuals who own or work on a shrimp trawler or crab trawler that currently operates inside the COLREGS of demarcation lines.”

Hergenrader also reminded a few times during the meeting that the NC Attorney General had approved his petition. A member of the Water Quality Advisory Committee  asked Hergenrader if he was aware his petition was in violation of the Fisheries Reform Act. “Don’t you think it would be appropriate if you made sure it was legal before you submitted it?"asked the committee member. 

Capt. Cecil, out of Swan Quarter, anchored up alongside Foxy Lady.
Capt. Cecil, out of Swan Quarter, anchored up alongside Foxy Lady.

Dr. Louis Daniel, director of the NC Division of Marine Fisheries, delivered a response to the committees, including a slide show presentation put together by DMF staffers. He said the ramifications of eliminating trawling would be “extraordinary,” both economically and scientifically. “The problem is,” said Daniel, “ [the petition] doesn’t have prescribed scientific analysis to support it.” He also pointed out that most of  the 271 registered trawlers in the state were less than 50 feet  and unable to go into the ocean and harvest seafood. Therefore these boats would be rendered useless, resulting in economic hardship for the captain, the crew and local industries that support seafood. He said the shrimp fishery should be managed in the shrimp fishery management plan.

“Shrimp was king, shrimp still is king,” said Connell Purvis, former DMF director and marine biologist that authored a benchmark 1976 shrimp study. As past DMF director, Purvis said he was charged with protecting the coastal resources, while obtaining the bounty’s best economic benefit. He said shrimp was the state’s most profitable, pointing out precision science about shrimp migration and spawning. He noted the DMF’s fine-tuned strategy of opening and closing the waters to trawling and the use of by-catch reduction gear and turtle extruder devices. Purvis humbly asked the DMF to focus on management issues of the fishery and not waste energy on user group conflicts. 

Also supporting the shrimp industry was new data as a result of doctoral dissertation by Dr. Rebecca Dehr, who earned her Ph.D in Coastal Resources Management at East Carolina University. Along with professor David Griffith, she presented new evidence that trawling actually has a positive impact on crabs and finfish in the Core Sound.

The crew of the Sea Angels waves to spectators at the Neuse River.
The crew of the Sea Angels waves to spectators at the Neuse River.

Ocracoke Current did not hear all the portions of public comment (ferry scheduling demanded we leave at 3:30). During the time at the meeting, though, only one person from the public spoke in favor of Hergenrader’s petition. He identified himself as a member of the Coastal Conservation Association. 

Leaving the meeting, a lifelong shrimper from Snead’s Ferry was patiently awaiting the outcome outside. He said he would like to take his grandbaby in and ask Hergenrader why he’s taking away the child’s future.

The Marine Fisheries Commission will cast the final vote for or against the petition at their August 28 - 30 meeting. With all  four advisory committees voting to recommend denial, it is very likely the MFC will vote the same. Advocates are calling it a small victory for commercial fishing. 

At press time, a petition opposing the trawl ban had gained more than 3,300 signatures. Members of the advisory committees and the Marine Fisheries Commission had been emailed copies. Anna Beckwith, who chaired Tuesday’s meeting, replied to the email and called the amount of signatures “impressive.” She added, she had “plenty of concerns of local seafood versus that awful imported stuff” but said some changes have to have support of the state legislature, rather than the Marine Fisheries Commission.


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