By Jannette Pippin
Gill-net fishermen have new requirements designed to protect an addition to the endangered species list.
The N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries recently signed an agreement with the National Marine Fisheries Service that implements a statewide incidental take permit for Atlantic sturgeon in the estuarine large-mesh and small-mesh anchored gill net fisheries.
The permit authorizes the limited take of Atlantic sturgeon in this fishery under a conservation plan designed to monitor, minimize and mitigate incidental interactions.
The division has been working on an incidental take permit for Atlantic sturgeon since it was listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act in April 2012.
The agreement for Atlantic sturgeon trails a statewide incidental take permit obtained by the division last year for sea turtles.
Both allow for the continued use of gill nets in traditional commercial fisheries, such as southern flounder, American shad, spot and striped mullet while providing for protection of endangered species.
In each case it is also important for fishermen to comply with requirements that observers be allowed to board for fishing trips.
“If we don’t meet the requirements, it could mean that the fishery will close,” said Jacob Boyd of the division’s Observer Program.
As part of the incidental take permits for both Atlantic sturgeon and sea turtles, a Estuarine Gill Net Permit has been created to identify all participants in North Carolina’s estuarine anchored gill net fishery.
Beginning Sept. 1, all fishermen who use anchored gill nets in the coastal rivers and sounds of North Carolina will be required to have the Estuarine Gill Net Permit.
The division began issuing the permits, available free of charge, on Friday. Fishermen may submit an application for a permit at any division license office.
The new permit will be required for anchored large-mesh and small-mesh gill nets set for commercial or recreational purposes. It applies to those who set nets under a Standard Commercial Fishing License, Retired Standard Commercial Fishing License or Recreational Commercial Gear License.
The permit is not required for runaround, strike or drop gill nets that are set and then immediately retrieved. It is also not required for drift gill nets that are used to capture fish while they are moved by water currents and are actively fished and attended.
The permit is not required to set gill nets in the ocean.
Fishermen convicted of using anchored gill nets in internal coastal waters without holding an Estuarine Gill Net Permit could be subject to a Class A1 misdemeanor.
In addition to identifying participants in the fishery prior to opening the season, the incidental take permit for Atlantic sturgeon requires maintaining a monitoring program that consists of onboard and alternative platform observers for at least 7 percent of large mesh gill net trips and 1 percent of small mesh gill net trips.
Fishermen are required to report any incidental capture of a sturgeon to the division; there is to be education and outreach on identifying sturgeon species and proper handling methods; and data will be gathered on post-release mortality. The division will also identify and manage any hot spots for interactions.
Fishermen may download an Estuarine Gill Net Permit application and answers to frequently asked questions at tinyurl.com/NC-Estuarine-Gill-Net-Permit. Fishermen may also request an application through the mail by calling 252-726-7021 or 800-682-2632.