North Carolina and MFC Politics
MFC receives report card grades from CCA
BY Susan West, Outer Banks Centinel staff
Facing an ambitious agenda that included 20 reports and presentations, members of the North Carolina Marine Fisheries Commission (MFC) knew they'd have much to do before recess was called, but few commissioners expected to get a report card in the first hour of their meeting in Kill Devil Hills last week.
During the public comment period on Thursday morning, Chris Elkins announced the grades the MFC had earned from the Coastal Conservation Association (CCA) on fishery management plans approved by the commission in 2005. Elkins is chairman of the fisheries advisory committee of the CCA, a recreational fishing organization.
The CCA gave the MFC a "D" on its southern flounder management plan. Elkins said that his group felt the plan was flawed because "the commercial harvest reduction was inadequate" and because the winter crab trawl fishery wasn't curtailed.
The MFC fared better in the fields of shrimp and blue crabs. Management plans for both species received a "B" from the CCA. Justification for the higher-than-average grade for the shrimp plan was based on closures of large primary nursery areas and on encouraging the use of skimmer trawls, rather than otter trawls.
The recreational fishing group commended the MFC for addressing the protection of habitat and spawning stock population and the need for data collection improvements in the blue crab plan.
"Most distressing was the river herring plan," continued Elkins. "The failure of the commission to enact an immediate closure of the fishery was our chief concern."
Elkins then listed several recommendations for the management of striped bass, including a traditional definition of beach seines, delaying the season in years when red drum are still present, and closing the area around Cape Point to commercial fishing.
"Let's back up a minute," interjected B.J. Copeland, MFC vice-chairman and
North Carolina State University professor and researcher. "You haven't said what grade you gave us in river herring."
When Elkins said the CCA had given the MFC a "F" on the herring plan, Copeland said he had surmised as much.
"I just wanted to have my report card complete before my parents sign it," said the professor.
Later in the day, commission chairman Mac Currin announced that the MFC, in conjunction with NC Sea Grant, will hold a meeting of all MFC advisory committees in New Bern on March 14.
"We're asking our advisors for ideas on how to improve the public's perception of the MFC," said Currin. He said that the MFC is interested in hearing suggestions on how information about the work of the MFC can be shared with the public.
Commissioner Barbara Garrity-Blake said that much misinformation is carried in articles highly critical of the MFC. She then read portions of an article in which commissioners were called "irresponsible citizens the governor appointed to toady to them [commercial netters] with indulgent but ultimately ruinous fishing rules."
Garrity-Blake said that these articles also often say "the CCA is trying to right these wrongs."
"I'd like to know what position the CCA takes on the misinformation spread in their name," she continued. "Right now I'd have to give the CCA an 'I' for incomplete in taking a stand against this sort of rhetoric.
"If the CCA doesn't support this rhetoric, perhaps they could join our effort to improve the public's understanding of the complexity of fisheries issues and of the good that we do," said Garrity-Blake.
Agreeing that "inflammatory" articles appear in the press, Commissioner Charlie Adams said that he felt a response from the MFC to misinformation was important.
"My advice to you," said Currin to Garrity-Blake, "is either let this stuff roll off your back like rain on a duck, or don't read the articles."
"This isn't about my hurt feelings," Garrity-Blake responded. "It's about misinformation that carries political implications for fishing communities."