Balancing act

Published 8:03 pm Thursday, December 27, 2007

By Staff
Seafood lovers in North Carolina and elsewhere should be happy to learn there’s been an unexpected expansion of underwater seagrasses along North Carolina’s coast.
That’s good news. Seagrasses are important elements when it comes to habitats for many species of aquatic life, including fish, crabs, scallops and the like. That expansion of seagrasses, which is unexpected, according to a report by The Associated Press, bodes well for fisheries nurseries in those coastal waters. It also bodes well for the state’s recreational and commercial fishing industries.
Healthier fisheries nurseries should result in larger and healthier fisheries. Keeping those fisheries healthy means protecting those fisheries. Keeping those fisheries healthy means protecting those seagrasses.
State agencies are working on doing just that. Those agencies are developing a modified definition of seagrass habitats. N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries officials have said the state must change the definition of seagrass to more precisely describe the habitat, according to the AP report, and possibly help identify and protect places that could support seagrasses.
Some people will view this approach by the state as an effort to impose more regulations and policies on commercial and recreational fishing. And it’s probable more regulations and policies concerning seagrasses and their protection will be implemented. But if those regulations and policies result in more and improved areas where seagrasses abound, they should also result in more and improved fisheries.
The problem is that many of the shallow areas that are ideal places for seagrasses to grow also are areas that are prime places for piers or docks. Some state officials and developers are worried about what a new definition of seagrasses and the likely attendant regulations and policies for seagrasses could mean for development in the state’s coastal areas.
Docks and piers cast shadows. Seagrasses need sunlight to live. Dredging also destroys seagrass beds, according to researchers.
New definitions, regulations and policies concerning the expansion and protection of seagrasses would be a good thing for the state’s commercial and recreational fishing industries, which are a key part of the state’s economy. And if those new definitions, regulations and policies do result in slowing down development — much of it residential — along the state’s coast, would that be such a bad thing? Probably not.
Fish, crabs and scallops need places to live, too. Those seagrass habitats serve as residential areas for them and their nurseries.
State officials have put together a small committee to find a compromise for the varying interests, and they want to have a unified definition of seagrasses by early next year, according to the AP report.
Coastal development, done properly, can be a good thing for North Carolina. But coastal development is much more than just houses on a beach, bay or sound. Coastal development also takes place in the ocean, bays and sounds. Residents — fish, scallops and crabs — found in those waters don’t pay taxes or vote. But they do contribute to the state’s economy.
Protecting those expanding seagrass habitats makes sense in several ways, including environmentally and economically.
The committee seeking the compromise that will satisfy the differing interests when it comes to seagrasses must find a solution that protects seagrasses and doesn’t prevent people from building piers and docks.