State gets sea-turtle permitPublished 5:24pm Saturday, September 14, 2013
Sea turtles in North Carolina have an extra measure of protection, thanks to an agreement between state and federal fisheries agencies.
The N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries earlier this week signed an agreement with the National Marine Fisheries Service that implements a statewide incidental take permit for sea turtles in the estuarine large- and small-mesh gill net fisheries.
The permit authorizes the limited take of sea turtles in these fisheries and allows the state to reopen some waters to gill net fishing that have been closed since July.
“This is the result of a lot of hard work by dedicated division staff,” said Louis Daniel, director of the Division of Marine Fisheries. “The flounder gill-net fishery is an important economic factor in eastern North Carolina, and this permit will allow it to continue on a limited basis while protecting threatened and endangered sea turtles.”
Incidents of sea turtles being entangled in wide-mesh gill nets resulted in the closure of the internal water of Pamlico Sound and upper Core Sound earlier this summer. Since late May, NCDMF’s sea turtle-observer program confirmed eight sea turtle interactions, including two dead green sea turtles, three live green sea turtles, one live loggerhead sea turtle, one live hybrid sea turtle (loggerhead-Kemp’s ridley) and one live sea turtle of unknown species (it fell out of the net before it could be identified).
One of the observed dead green sea turtle interactions was in a gill net set prior to one hour before sunset, which is a violation of state fishing regulations.
The division is considering when to reopen different waters based on the presence of sea turtles, because the number of allowed takes in some areas is low, Daniel said.
“A lot of these waters are going to close with one interaction,” Daniel said.
Also, the number of allowed takes for each area is for the entire period of Sept. 1 to Aug. 31 each year, so if an area must close, it closes the entire year.
The permit carries the same restrictions on soak times and gear requirements and requirement for observer coverage as was previously implemented through a lawsuit settlement agreement between the state and the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center.
In addition, the area previously known as the Pamlico Sound gill net restricted area now falls under the same soak times, gear requirements and observer requirements as other areas.
Daniel stressed the importance of fishermen obeying regulations, including allowing observer coverage.
“If we do not meet the required percentage of observer coverage, the National Marine Fisheries Service can revoke this permit, which would close the fishery,” Daniel said.
Another new requirement is that all commercial and recreational gill-netters must report any incidental capture of a sea turtle to the division at 252-726-7021 or 1-800-682-2632.
The permit and implementing agreement can be found on the division website at http://portal.ncdenr.org/web/mf/ under Hot Topics.