North Carolina's coastal fishing regulator is rejecting a proposal that would have banned shrimp boats from trawling in the region's rivers and sounds and forcing them into the open ocean.
The Marine Fisheries Commission meeting in Raleigh on Thursday unanimously dumped a petition seeking rules declaring most internal coastal waters as seafood nursery areas off limits to trawlers.
Supporters of the ban blame shrimpers' massive nets for collecting and killing millions of fish in the inshore waters where juvenile sea creatures grow up. Only the New Bern man proposing the plan spoke on its behalf during the four-hour hearing.
Members of the fishing and seafood industries packed the meeting, warning it could lead to the loss of thousands of jobs aboard the shrimp boats and in related businesses.
"I'm very pleased that they denied the petition and that they are going to continue to develop measures through the fisheries management plan which is our prescribed process," said Dr. Louis Daniel, director of the Division of Marine Fisheries.
Dr. Daniel was the spokesperson for the DMF at the meeting. He made the case that the petition didn't adequately use scientific research in its development, a factor which lead to its denial.
"When you're going to take a management action, you're going to need to determine what the impacts of that action will be," Daniel said. "What we believe is that reducing bycatch rather than eliminating bycatch is a far better approach to take to try to determine what the problems may be."
The petition was submitted by Tim Hergenrader. Under DMF rules, any person can submit a petition for rule change and the commission has to take a look at it.
"We believe that the juvenile fish and shrimp all hang out together in the estuary," Hergenrader said. "We believe those designations are inadequate, they're 40 years old, and they weren't inclusive to where the juvenile fin fish really reside."
Hergenrader said he wasn't surprised by the commission's ruling.