Marine Fisheries Commission hears need for striped bass harvest moratorium in Albemarle Sound

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 North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries will implement adaptive management with a harvest moratorium in the Albemarle Sound Management Area. Despite recent management actions taken by the N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission (MFC) and the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission (WRC), the Albemarle/Roanoke striped bass stock continues to be overfished and to experience overfishing.

Division of Marine Fisheries Director Kathy Rawls told the Marine Fisheries Commission there will not be a fall 2023 striped bass season in the Albemarle Sound Management Area and that she anticipates the need to implement a harvest moratorium for 2024. Her statements came following a presentation by Division staff on adaptive management measures under Amendment 2 of the Estuarine Striped Bass FMP and the updated stock assessment at the Commission meeting last week.

A 2020 stock assessment indicated the Albemarle/Roanoke striped bass stock is overfished and overfishing is occurring, and the Division and Wildlife Resources Commission implemented reduced possession limits in January 2021 to end overfishing. But a 2023 peer-reviewed stock assessment update indicates that abundance has not improved. In fact, Division data shows the Albemarle/Roanoke stock has had six consecutive years of spawning failures.

The total allowable landings of 8,049 pounds, as determined by the recent stock assessment update for the entire Albemarle/Roanoke system, is, effectively, too low to manage, so a moratorium is needed. Stocking resumed in the Albemarle Sound in 2023 to supplement multiple consecutive years (2017-2022) of very low recruitment and will continue in the Albemarle Sound for at least the next three years.

In other action, the Commission:

  • Voted to send a letter to the N.C. Rules Review Commission stating that it agrees with the Coastal Resources Commission interpretation that floating structures used for aquaculture operations are not considered fishing gear, and thus considered development under the Coastal Area Management Act.
  • Directed Commission counsel to revise the Mutilated Finfish Rule to maintain current rule language with the addition of proclamation authority.
  • Asked staff to develop rule language to amend rule 15A NCAC 03Q .0106 to address regulatory conflict related to jurisdiction in joint fishing waters.
  • Set the annual cap on the number of commercial fishing licenses available through the Eligibility Pool at 500;
  • Elected Commissioner Sammy Corbett as vice-chairman.

Prior to the meeting, Corbett and Ryan Bethea were sworn in as new members of the commission. Corbett holds the Commercial Industry seat, and Bethea holds one of two Commercial Fisherman seats. Additionally, Commissioners Tom Roller and Doug Rader were reappointed to their respective seats on the Commission.