Group calling for ban of large trawlers in the sounds sues North Carolina, shrimpers

[photo courtesy NCCFRG]

An organization called the North Carolina Coastal Fisheries Reform Group has filed a federal lawsuit against state regulators and six of North Carolina’s largest shrimp trawl companies as part of an effort to ban trawling in the sounds on the grounds it violates the federal Clean Water Act.

“The day has come. We didn’t want to end up in court, but we ran out of good-faith options,” group leader Joe Albea said in a press release Wednesday.

The group said the lawsuit comes after eight months of “unsuccessful attempts to engage in meaningful fisheries management reform dialog” with Governor Roy Cooper, the North Carolina General Assembly leadership and the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality.

“Two months ago we reached out to the state and to the industry in the form of a Notice of Intent. Yes, we had a meeting with certain parties on the industry side during the 60-day window, but the dialog was not fruitful – nor were any concessions made on the industry side,” Albea said.

Defendants named in the suit include the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality; the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries; Capt. Gaston, LLC.; Esther Joy, Inc.; Hobo Seafood, Inc.; Lady Samaria, Inc.; Trawler Capt. Alfred, Inc.; and Trawlers Garland and Jeff, Inc.

Several of the boats listed in the notice have home ports in Hyde County. Others are from Carteret and Craven counties.

“This matter of industrial-sized shrimp trawlers going into our inshore waters and killing millions of finfish, and tearing up the bottom in the process, has to stop,” Albea said.

“If our politicians won’t do the right thing and make common-sense regulation reform, it’s time for the court to weigh in,” Albea said.

Along with NCCFRG and Albea, other plaintiffs are David Anthony Sammons of Wilmington, Capt. Seth Vernon, Capt. Richard Andrews and Dwayne Bevell.

Andrews is a recreational fishing guide from Beaufort County. Vernon is a guide in the Wilmington-area and Bevell owns a tackle shop in Goldsboro.

A Division of Marine Fisheries spokeswoman told WRAL-TV Thursday that the agency had no immediate comment on the case filed Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina.

According to NCCFRG’s legal counsel, James L. Conner, the disposal of millions of dead finfish, known as bycatch, into Pamlico Sound every shrimping season violates the Clean Water Act, and the behavior has been allowed and encouraged by the state Marine Fisheries Commission and the Division of Marine Fisheries.

“Look, our group has taken every measure to ameliorate what is clearly a horrible situation for North Carolina’s public trust marine resource,” said Robert P. Crone, Sr., media specialist and member of NCCFRG.

We published a robust website clearly describing our position. We contacted leaders and politicians in our General Assembly and the Executive Branch, practically begging them to engage in dialog with us. And we were largely met with silence,” Crone said.

At some point after months and years and decades of deflection, you have to throw up your hands and turn it over to the real decision makers. That’s what we’ve done, and yes – we look forward to our day in court,” said Crone.

“The trawling companies have broken the law, and the State has failed in its obligation to uphold North Carolina’s Public Trust Doctorine. It’s really as simple as that,” Crone said.

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Sam Walker is news director for OBXToday.com, Beach 104, 99.1 The Sound, Big 94.5 and News Talk 92.3 WZPR. Reach him at [email protected]