Last night I attended a hearing of the North Carolina Marine Fisheries Commission (MFC) in Emerald Isle, North Carolina. The MFC held a hearing allowing public comment on a proposal to close huge areas of North Carolina’s waterways to shrimping. The MFC will vote on the proposal this morning. Based on the body language of the members of the Commission, I am not sure they heard the voices of the coastal residents and coastal fishermen who pleaded with them not to pass the resolution.
There were members of local government bodies, County Commissioners, a State Senator, and others who pointed out what the economic impact of closing these waterways would be–not only on the fishermen and their families, but on the related industries, including tourism. How many people who live a short distance inland come to the coast for a fresh seafood dinner? What about the companies who repair boats, repair engines, provide fuel, repair nets, etc.? What impact will the sudden end of employment for the 2000 people directly impacted by this resolution have on the area’s economy? How many people in related industries will find themselves unemployed if the resolution is passed?
According to Glenn Skinner, Executive Director–North Carolina Fisheries Association, Inc.:
North Carolina has the second largest estuary in the U.S. with over 2.1 million acres or 3,281 square miles of estuarine (internal salt) waters. Currently approximately 1 million acres (47%) of our estuary is permanently closed to shrimp trawling and an additional 200,000+ acres are managed with seasonal closures, with a combined total of 1,207,463 acres or 1,866 square miles permanently or seasonally closed to shrimp trawling. These area closures, many of which were implemented 50+ years ago, were intended to protect areas identified as critical estuarine habitat and create safe havens or “nursery areas” for juvenile finfish and other marine species.
After decades of restrictions and monitoring, the Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) acknowledges that they can’t determine whether closing over half of the second largest estuary in the country to shrimp trawling has resulted in increases of abundance for any particular species of finfish or the improvement/restoration of critical fish habitats within the closed areas. They also acknowledge that the potential benefits of additional area closures are unquantifiable as are the potential negative impacts, if any, to overall fish abundance or habitat from shrimp trawling under the current management strategy.
So what is the science behind the proposed closing of more waters to shrimping? Shouldn’t someone actually study the impact of the current closures before adding to them?
I haven’t lived in North Carolina long enough to understand exactly what the politics are behind this proposal. I am attributing the proposal to politics because scientifically it makes no sense. It is my hope that the panel that heard the pleas of the fishermen and the coastal residents will vote against the resolution.