The North Carolina Wildlife Federation in a formal petition filed Wednesday asked the state Marine Fisheries Commission to designate all coastal waters as protected fish nursery areas.
Every year millions of small fish and other marine life get caught up in the nets of fishing boats in North Carolina waters – as the boats trawl for shrimp.
The unwanted waste, called bycatch, puts young marine life in jeopardy, environmentalists say.
David Knight, a policy consultant with the federation, says offering a level of protection will allow juvenile fish to grow to adult life.
“By setting up these nursery areas and expanding them to all of the North Carolina waters, it will protect these juvenile fish and allow them to at least grow up to an age of spawning which will allow them to reproduce and put more fish back into the system,” he states.
Knight estimates for every pound of shrimp caught off the state’s coast, four pounds of bycatch are collected.
Currently, the state doesn’t have a designated shrimp-trawling season and the petition asks the state to choose a time period when shrimp are large enough for harvest.
Opponents of such regulation say it will have a harmful impact on the fishing industry.
North Carolina is the only state on the East Coast to allow shrimp trawling in its sounds, fish nurseries and estuaries.
Knight says protecting fisheries must be done to prevent the depletion of coastal resources.
“We all have stories about not being able to catch the fish, the crabs, the oysters and the shrimp that we used to be able to,” he says. “The science backs up these stories and this petition is based in science and science-driven. It’s not just our opinion.”
The state now has 120 days to either grant or deny the petition and is expected to make a decision at its February meeting next year.
If approved, the new rules would only impact industrial, large-scale shrimp trawlers.