Now that fall gill net fishing season is underway, here are some reminders for commercial and recreational gill netters that fish in the internal coastal waters of North Carolina.
Anchored large and small mesh gill net fisheries in the internal coastal waters of North Carolina are covered under incidental take permits for sea turtles and Atlantic sturgeon. These permits allow for the incidental interactions of threatened and endangered species during an otherwise lawful activity. An interaction is when a sea turtle or Atlantic sturgeon is caught by or otherwise encounters a gill net. Incidental take permits are issued by the National Marine Fisheries Service under the federal Endangered Species Act.
Through these permits, gill net interactions with sea turtles and Atlantic sturgeon are divided among gill net management units by species, disposition (live and dead animals) and anchored small and large mesh gill nets. A management unit closes when the allowed number of interactions for a sea turtle species or Atlantic sturgeon is either approached or reached.
The incidental take permits stipulate several measures designed to minimize interactions of sea turtles and Atlantic sturgeon with anchored gill nets, including gear restrictions, allowed fishing days and times, observer coverage and self-reporting of sea turtles and Atlantic sturgeon interactions by gill net fishermen when observers are not present. To maintain compliance and keep the anchored gill net fisheries open, the division is required to provide observer coverage for a small portion of the anchored gill net fishing activity—a minimum of 1 percent of small mesh and 7 percent of large mesh anchored gill net trips. Specific requirements for each management unit and the latest opened and closed areas can be found in the current proclamations on the division’s website at http://portal.ncdenr.org/web/mf/proclamations-current.
Self-reported interactions do not count toward the allowed interactions and, therefore, will not result in the closure of a gill net management unit. However, these interactions do assist division biologists in understanding sea turtle and Atlantic sturgeon distribution and habitat use. This information helps the division work with fishermen to avoid interaction hotspot areas and improve the management of the gill net fisheries.
To report a sea turtle or Atlantic sturgeon interaction, call the division at 800-682-2632. Failure to meet the incidental take permit requirements could result in the suspension or revocation of the permits by the National Marine Fisheries Service, resulting in the closure of anchored gill net fisheries.
Another stipulation of the incidental take permits requires that commercial and recreational gill net fishermen hold an Estuarine Gill Net Permit to fish anchored gill nets in internal coastal waters. The permit serves as a roster of participants fishing under the incidental take permits. The Estuarine Gill Net Permit is free of charge and can be obtained at any of the division’s offices. Fishermen are required to abide by the conditions of the permit, which are provided to each permit holder. Failure to do so will result in suspension of the gill net permit.