Support those who bring it to our tables

Published 5:16 pm Friday, January 13, 2017

To the Editor:

A petition before the North Carolina Marine Fisheries Commission could signal the end of our state’s shrimping industry. This fishery has an annual landing value of $17 million, second only to the value of our blue crabs. Landing value does not take into account the economic value of North Carolina seafood once it leave the dock in jobs related to processing, packaging, distributing, wholesale and retail sales, and of course, the benefit to the many restaurants that serve NC shrimp. Many in the Pamlico region depend on shrimping to provide for their families, and fresh shrimp lovers in our state rely on those folks to provide access to this shared public resource.

The petition seeks an arbitrary ban on all trawling between May 15 and Aug. 16, eliminating the pink shrimp fishery and leaving in question the brown shrimp fishery. The petition further seeks to reduce remaining trawling days by 56 percent in ocean waters up to three miles out and 40 percent in internal waters, when and if, the season is even opened by the Division of Marine Fisheries. All trawling would be banned at night and trawl times slashed to 45 minutes. There are additional onerous requests within the petition that are too numerous to list in this format.

Few if any shrimpers could successfully operate under these restrictions, crushing several fragile coastal communities in the Pamlico region. Those who tried to stay afloat could be forced to venture out in unsafe weather to make a living within the confines of such narrowly defined trawling windows.

The fishery has been managed for decades, and almost 1 million acres of internal coastal waters are already closed to trawling in North Carolina—approximately 48 percent of the total. In 1997, the NC General Assembly passed the Fisheries Reform Act (FRA), transforming fisheries conservation in our state and becoming a model for other states. One of the cornerstones of the FRA was to require fishery management plans (FMP) for each of North Carolina’s significant commercial and recreational species.

A FMP was completed for North Carolina shrimp in 2006 and a FMP amendment was finalized in 2015. Both plans addressed the major issues of shrimp conservation, bycatch, habitat protections and socioeconomic factors and were developed over two years of discussions with marine biologists, conservationists and fishermen during public meetings. The issues raised in the current petition were thoroughly discussed during the development of those plans, and management strategies were chosen on the best available science and public input. Furthermore, a three-year bycatch reduction study is underway with shrimpers, marine biologists and stakeholders working together to improve trawling methods. Preliminary data presented in New Bern on Jan. 9 suggests that the collaborative effort may yield better-than-anticipated results which all could and would support.

That’s why the timing of the current petition is suspect.

To learn more, visit and plan to attend the NCMFC public hearing at the New Bern Convention Center on Tuesday at 12:30 p.m. to voice your support for North Carolina shrimp and those who bring it to our tables.

Heidi Jernigan Smith
NC Catch board member