Fisheries Management and You

Have you ever wondered how marine fisheries are managed in North Carolina? Who makes the regulations and what information are they based on? The N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries and The N. C. Marine Fisheries Commission work together along with input from you, the public.

Fishery Management Plans and You

The N. C. Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) and the N. C. Marine Fisheries Commission (MFC) are responsible for managing marine and estuarine fisheries within North Carolina state waters. The 1997 Fisheries Reform Act requires the DMF to prepare Fishery Management Plans (FMP) for review and adoption by the MFC. Currently the state-managed species or species groups are:

•    Bay scallop

•    Blue crab

•    Eastern oyster

•    Estuarine striped bass

•    Hard clam

•    Kingfishes

•    Red drum

•    River herring

•    Shrimp

•    Southern flounder

•    Spotted sea trout

•    Striped mullet

In addition to these 12 state FMPs, there is also one composite plan called the N.C. FMP for Interjurisdictional Fisheries. This plan is comprised of 23 species or species groups jointly managed by regional councils, NOAA Fisheries and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission. To reduce redundancy, federal plans for interjurisdictional fisheries are usually adopted by reference unless the MFC decides to implement more restrictive or complementary management measures. The overarching goal of all the FMPs is to achieve sustainable harvest in these fisheries.  

What are Fishery Management Plans?

Fishery Management Plans are large documents used to capture a picture of a fishery and determine if fishing is sustainable or if changes need to be made. They begin with a very thorough look at the fish population, using a Stock Assessment (discussed below), if possible, and end with recommendations for achieving a sustainable fishery. These recommendations are provided by DMF to the MFC. The MFC then decide which recommendations to approve and implement within the requirements for achieving a sustainable fishery as set out in law.

FMPs are extensive, well researched documents intended to provide as much information about a fishery as possible so that fisheries managers can make informed decisions about how to successfully manage the state’s fisheries. The goal of the DMF is to capture as complete a picture as possible, so every aspect of the fishery is researched, including the fishermen, both recreational and commercial, the types of gears used and the way the gears are fished, when the fish are caught and the economics of the fishery. DMF scientists also gather information about the fish population, including how long the fish take to reproduce and where they spawn, where they live, what other species they interact with, and other fisheries they may be caught in. This is just the tip of the iceberg. FMPs are updated annually with the most up to date scientific data available.

The FMP development process is a collaborative effort between fishermen, scientists, environmental groups and other state and federal agencies. Because there are things we cannot measure or record in fisheries the DMF and the MFC seek public comment and participation to help fill in the gaps. A recent change to the process introduced a Scoping Period to provide an opportunity for public comment in the beginning stages of development, which is the first and best opportunity for the public to get involved.

What are Stock Assessments?

A thorough review of the fish population is the first step in FMP development. If the data are available, this is done using a stock assessment. To perform a stock assessment, the DMFs stock assessment scientists gather as much information about a population as is available. This includes data collected by DMF scientists and other scientists from Universities and federal and state agencies, which are called fishery-independent data. They also gather the data collected directly from the recreational and commercial fishermen, which is called fishery-dependent data. Once all the data are gathered, the stock assessment scientists use complex mathematical models to determine the status of the fishery. These models take into account things we cannot measure directly, like the number of fish that die from natural causes, and use estimates based on what we can measure using available data. By doing this, the stock assessment scientists are able to provide a more complete picture of the fish population and indicate if it’s being fished at sustainable levels or if changes are necessary. The status of the population, or stock, is then used, along with all of the other information gathered in the FMP, to develop management recommendations.

How can you participate?

Public participation in the FMP Process is important and there are multiple opportunities for public participation built into the process itself. The recent addition of the Scoping Period is an example of the continuing effort by the DMF to encourage meaningful public engagement in managing the states fisheries. Read more in the article titled, Division Enhances Fishery Management Plan Process. There are two main ways for the public to participate in the FMP process:

•Public Comment

There are many opportunities for public comment during the FMP development process, the newest of which is the recently developed Scoping Period. Public comment periods are announced regularly for many different topics. Sign up for the DMF News Releases to stay informed and to provide your comment.

• Apply to be an Advisor

Once the FMP development process is underway, the division solicits members of the public to apply to serve on an FMP advisory committee to assist the division with the development of the FMP. Each FMP advisory committee has commercial fishermen, recreational fishermen, and scientists, all with expertise for the FMP.

Additionally, the Marine Fisheries Commission solicits applications annually for members of the public to serve on the standing and regional advisory committees. These committees provide insights and comments directly to the MFC for consideration during their decision-making process. The application period occurs in the fall of each year, with three-year terms beginning in January.