Marine Fisheries Commission adopts Blue Crab Plan Amendment

MOREHEAD CITY

The N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission approved measures to end overfishing and achieve sustainable harvest with the adoption of the Blue Crab Fishery Management Plan Amendment 3 at its meeting last week.

Management measures will be implemented by proclamation in the coming weeks.

Adopted management measures include:

  • A closed season (which will replace the current pot closure period)
    • Jan. 1-31 north of the Highway 58 bridge to Emerald Isle
    • March 1-15 south of the Highway 58 bridge;
  • A 5-inch minimum size limit for mature female crabs statewide;
  • Retaining the prohibition on harvest of immature female hard crabs statewide;
  • Retaining the current 5% cull tolerance;
  • Revising the adaptive management framework
  • Retaining the current cull ring number and placement requirements;
  • Removing all cull ring exempted areas;
  • Expanding the existing crab spawning sanctuary in Barden Inlet and moving the boundary of the Drum Inlet sanctuary to encompass Ophelia Inlet;
  • Establishing new crab spawning sanctuaries in Beaufort, Bogue, Bear, Browns, New River, Topsail, Rich, Mason, Masonboro, Carolina Beach, Cape Fear River, Shallotte, Lockwoods Folly and Tubbs inlets with a March 1-Oct. 31 closure;
  • Retaining the prohibition on crab dredges;
  • Prohibiting crab trawls in areas where shrimp trawls are already prohibited in the Pamlico, Pungo, and Neuse rivers;
  • Reducing the crab bycatch allowance for oyster dredges to 10% of the total weight of the combined oyster and crab catch or 100 pounds, whichever is less;
  • Using criteria for designating Diamondback Terrapin Management Areas where use of an approved terrapin excluder device will be required;
  • Working with other commissions and state agencies to address water quality issues affecting blue crab.

Reductions in harvest are necessary because a recent North Carolina stock assessment for blue crab determined the stock is overfished and overfishing is occurring. Overfished means the population is too small. Overfishing means the removal rate is too high. North Carolina law mandates that fishery management plans include measures to end overfishing within two years of adoption and rebuild the stock to achieve sustainable harvest within 10 years of adoption.

In other business, the commission voted to:

  • Endorse a plan for the Division of Marine Fisheries to conduct a thorough review of the regulations governing the use of small mesh gill nets;
  • Approve the goal and objectives for amendments for two fishery management plans,
    • The Southern Flounder Fishery Management Plan Amendment 3, and
    • The Shrimp Fishery Management Plan Amendment 2;
  • Approve proposed language to prepare for rulemaking pertaining to
    • Reclassifying special secondary nursery areas that have not been opened to trawling since 1991 to permanent secondary nursery areas, and
    • Addressing user conflicts for shellfish leases as required by state law and
  • Approve amendments to two rules,
    • Amend 15A NCAC 03M .0509 to prohibit possession of tarpon and make it illegal to gaff, spear, or puncture tarpon by any method other than hook and line, and
    • Amend 15A NCAC 03O .0108 to clarify the circumstances under which transfers of Standard Commercial Fishing Licenses are allowed.
  • The effective date of the rules is subject to legislative review.

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