County takes stance on striped bass program

Published 6:28 pm Tuesday, August 2, 2016

The striped bass population in the Tar-Pamlico river system is at risk, and Beaufort County commissioners are speaking out.

The Board of Commissioners are requesting officials look closely at what would happen to the striped bass population if the North Carolina Department of Marine Fisheries discontinued restocking the river each year.

“If they stop stocking the Tar River, these fish will go away,” David Daniels told commissioners during their July regular meeting.

For three years, the Whichards Beach resident co-chaired the striped bass committee and he said, barring dredging the Tar River near Rocky Mount to give striped bass an ideal spawning habitat, the striped bass population cannot sustain itself without restocking.

“It would behoove us as a county to encourage and continue to stock striped bass in this river,” Daniels said.

Monday, commissioners passed a resolution requesting the continuation of restocking, as the Department of Marine Fisheries and North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commissioner, have a difference of opinion about how the program should be managed.

“The economic benefit that is gained by fishermen spending money on gas, food, bait and fishing tackle helps the county. The county considers fishing for striped bass an industry, and it cannot afford to lose another industry,” the resolution states.

According to statistics from Marine Fisheries, recreational fishing is a nearly $2 billion per year industry in North Carolina. In 2014, nearly five million fishing trips were taken in North Carolina, which is second only to the number taken in Florida. Broken down to the local level, in 2014, recreational fishing provided 14 fulltime jobs on the Tar-Pamlico River and $1,250,000 was spent fishing the area.

A partnership between Marine Fisheries and Wildlife Resources controls the stocking of 100,000 juvenile striped bass each year in the Central Southern Management Area, which includes the Tar-Pamlico, Neuse and Cape Fear river systems. The cost of restocking each year is more than $600,000, but unlike the Roanoke River Management Area, CSMA has seen no success with its restocking leading to a natural breeding population. Shallow, silty water, along with a low rate of flow, prevent natural spawning, according to Marine Fisheries.

Instead, restocking has resulted in a “put and take” program, in which 93-97 percent of striped bass caught by recreational and commercial fishermen come from a hatchery. There’s only an estimated 2-percent hatch rate in the river, according to Daniels.

The Board of Commissioners’ resolution will be forwarded to Gov. Pat McCrory, N.C. Senator Bill Cook, N.C. Representative Michael Speciale, commissioners of Hyde, Pamlico and Pitt counties, as well as the heads of the Department of Environmental Quality, North Carolina Marine Fisheries, Marine Fisheries Commission and Wildlife Resources Commission.