Impact of shrimping regulations felt far and wide along N.C. coast

9OYS examines the impact new shrimping regulations could have on the eastern North Carolina industry, economy and environment in a special report.

BEAUFORT, N.C. (WNCT) — For months at a time, fisherman Dennis Aultman lives on his boat, the “Bertie P,” where he said he spends his time trawling along places like the “the Pamlico Sound and out off of the beach off of Ocracoke and Kitty Hawk.”

He’s just one of hundreds of North Carolina fishermen who said any changes to the industry would affect their livelihoods.

The N.C. Wildlife Federation introduced a petition last November to the state Division of Marine Fisheries that adds new regulations on shrimpers.

“I don’t understand why they want to shut us down,” said Aultman. “It creates jobs for a lot of people other than just us.”

But David Knight of the N.C. Wildlife Federation said the organization sees the regulations as a necessity.

“Those that are saying this is about banning shrimp trawling in North Carolina are incorrect,” said Knight. “That statement is untrue. If you look at our petition and read it closely, we want there to be more restriction on these nursery areas.”

Knight said evidence of finfish depletion of species like whitefish, spot and croaker add to the urgency.

“We found that we were losing hundreds of thousands of juvenile fish annually, and the greatest cause of that was due to shrimp trawling,” Knight said.

To protect those juvenile fish, the federation asked the division to designate the Pamlico Sound as a primary nursery area.

The petition also asked to limit tow times to 45 minutes, trawling to three days per week, head rope length to 90 feet and requires 60-count shrimp, or 60 shrimp per pound, in the Pamlico Sound before allowing trawling in those waters.

The Division of Fisheries voted five to three on February 16 to accept the petition.

Jerry Schill represents commercial fishermen against the regulations, and he said they put a cloud over the heads of many shrimpers and their families.

“There would be a few people who would be able to continue shrimping,” said Schill. “It’s not a total ban on shrimping, but economically it would strangle the industry to the point to where it couldn’t make any money.”

The fishing industry is vital to North Carolina’s economy. In 2014, about 7 million pounds of seafood were caught in Carteret County alone, valued at nearly $15 million.

Fishermen don’t disagree conservation efforts are needed to reduce bycatch.

“Those arguments are all valid, and we continue to try to do things better,” Schill said.

The goal is to reduce bycatch by 40 percent federally and in North Carolina by 60 percent

“Everything they’ve asked us to do we comply with,” said Aultman said. “Turtle excluders, fish excluders, we’ve been having more regulations every year, but we always follow them.”

So for now, fishermen like Aultman said they are hoping for a miracle.

The Division of Marine Fisheries will now enter into an eight- to 12-month-long process of verifying the economic impact of the rules before they actually go into effect.

Fishermen said they plan to go to the state legislature for relief.

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