Marine Fisheries Commission looks at curbing user conflicts associated with shellfish leases

MOREHEAD CITY

The N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission took steps toward addressing user conflicts associated with shellfish leases at its meeting Thursday.

The commission voted to start the rulemaking process for proposed shellfish lease rules that will:

  • Increase setback requirements from developed shorelines for new shellfish leases;
  • Limit the allowable number of corner markers for demarcating shellfish leases to simplify the polygon shapes;
  • Set new criteria for shellfish lease stakes and signage to alleviate navigation concerns; and,
  • Initiate a new shellfish leaseholder training program that emphasizes user conflict reduction strategies.

Public hearings for the proposed rules will be announced later.

If adopted, the proposed rules will implement the first phase of a shellfish lease user conflict study, aimed at addressing user conflict issues, that was adopted by the commission in November. The study was mandated by the N.C. General Assembly in Session Law 2019-37, a law that included numerous provisions to increase support for the state’s shellfish aquaculture industry, which has grown exponentially in the past few years.

Additionally, the commission voted to ask the Division of Marine Fisheries to develop recommendations for limiting the total allowed acres of shellfish leases in different water bodies of the state, and to bring this guidance back to the commission in February.

Limiting the total acreage of shellfish leases for certain waterbodies was also a recommendation of the shellfish lease user conflict study. State law (G.S. 113-201) allows the commission to limit the number of acres in any area that may be granted for shellfish leases to assure the public that some waters will remain open and free from shellfish cultivation activities.

In other business, the commission voted to:

  • Ask the Division of Marine Fisheries to study making the state’s nearshore ocean artificial reefs Special Management Zones, possibly limiting the allowable gear, and to bring recommendations to the commission in November.
  • Approve the notice of text and associated fiscal analysis to begin the re-adoption of a number of other Marine Fisheries Commission rules under a state-mandated periodic review. Public hearings will be announced later.
  • Approve updates to the bay scallop and kingfishes fishery management plans, containing no changes in management.
  • Approve the draft five-year schedule for review of fishery management plans, which now goes for final approval by the Department of Environmental Quality secretary.
  • Set the annual cap on the number of commercial fishing licenses available in the Eligibility Pool for the 2020-2021 fiscal year at 500.
  • Re-elect Doug Cross as vice chairman.

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