Marine Fisheries Commission adopts management to end overfishing and rebuild estuarine striped bass stocks

Striped bass, also known as rock fish, are a popular catch in local waters from mid-fall to early spring. [photo courtesy Island Free Press]

The N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission took action this week to end overfishing of estuarine striped bass and rebuild the stocks by adopting the Estuarine Striped Bass Fishery Management Plan Amendment 2.

The Commission adopted the amendment as presented by staff, with the addition of a provision to maintain the gill net prohibition through 2024 to allow for assessment of its performance along with the continuing harvest moratorium.

Amendment 2 includes the following management measures:

  • Incorporates current harvest restrictions, including the 51,216-pound Total Allowable Landings implemented for the Albemarle Sound and Roanoke River Management Areas in January 2021 under adaptive management in Amendment 1.
  • Implements an 18 to 25-inch slot limit in the Albemarle Sound Management Area for recreational and commercial fisheries.
  • Retains the 18 to 22-inch harvest slot limit in the Roanoke River Management Area, with no harvest allowed on fish greater than 22 inches.
  • Requires non-offset, barbless circle hooks when fishing with live or natural bait in inland waters of the Roanoke River Management Area from May 1 through June 30.
  • Implements accountability measures that require overages from one year to be paid back the next year, or in subsequent years, if needed.
  • Allows for adaptive management which includes the ability to change daily possession limits, open and close seasons, and require gear modifications to reduce striped bass discards, keep harvest below the Total Allowable Landings, and reduce interactions with Endangered and Threatened species.
  • Maintains the gill net closure in the upper Tar-Pamlico and Neuse River systems through 2024.
  • In 2025, review data through 2024 to determine if populations in the Tar-Pamlico and Neuse rivers are self-sustaining and if sustainable harvest can be determined.
  • Maintains the no-possession provision in the Cape Fear River.

Amendment 2 was jointly developed by the Division of Marine Fisheries and Wildlife Resources Commission and contains management measures to address sustainable harvest in the Albemarle Sound and Roanoke River management areas and the Tar-Pamlico, Neuse, and Cape Fear rivers.

The latest stock assessment indicates the Albemarle-Roanoke Striped Bass stock is overfished and overfishing is occurring. The Division is currently updating that assessment and working with WRC staff to determine if further management measures are necessary for the conservation of the stock.

In other business, the Commission:

  • Approved Supplement A to the Striped Mullet Fishery Management Plan Amendment 1 with a commercial and recreational season closure of Nov. 7 through Dec. 3 to achieve an approximately 20% reduction in harvest. The draft supplement will be taken out for public comment before being placed on the Commission’s agenda for final approval at its February 2023 meeting.
  • Approved the goal and objectives for the Striped Mullet Fishery Management Plan Amendment 2.
  • Approved the following slate of names for the Governor’s consideration to nominate for the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council Obligatory Seat:
    • Mike Blanton, a commercial fisherman from Elizabeth City
    • Jess Hawkins, a retired fisheries manager, educator, and ecotour operator from Morehead City
    • Thomas Newman, a commercial fisherman from Williamston
    • Robert Ruhle, a commercial fisherman from Wanchese
  • Approved the suspension of rules indefinitely for subitems (c), (i), and (j) of item 1 of NCAC 15A 03R 0117 Oyster Sanctuaries. This allows for the continuation of Proclamation SF-6-2022, which corrects the boundaries for Pea Island, Racoon Island, and Swan Island oyster sanctuaries.
  • Received a presentation on results of the benchmark Spotted Seatrout Stock Assessment for North Carolina and Virginia. The assessment contains data through 2019 and estimates the stock is not overfished but is experiencing overfishing. The Division of Marine Fisheries plans to hold scoping meetings in early 2023 before drafting the Spotted Seatrout Fishery Management Plan Amendment 1.