July 27, 2005

Opposition Raised to Shorter Shrimp Season in North Carolina

Jul. 27--BEAUFORT, N.C. -- You can't control the weather and you can't control the shrimp.

That's what fishermen told officials Tuesday in response to a proposal to keep some of the major trawling areas of the state closed to shrimping until the shrimp reach a large size.

"That sounds so perfect in a perfect world," said April Taylor of Harkers Island. "But we do not live in a perfect world." The truth is fishermen sometimes need to catch and sell smaller-sized shrimp to survive. That's what Sandra Gaskill of Harkers Island said her husband had to do this past June.

"Without that month, we would probably have starved to death," Gaskill said. "We wouldn't have been able to pay our bills; we wouldn't have been able to make it."

Taylor and Gaskill were among seven people who spoke in Beaufort at one of several public meetings being held along the coast on a draft Shrimp Fishery Management Plan.

Among several recommendations for different water bodies in the draft plan is a proposal that the Division of Marine Fisheries open the Neuse, Bay, Pamlico and Pungo rivers to shrimp trawling each year only after July 7 and only when the shrimp reach a size of 26-30 heads-on count (26 to 30 shrimp per pound).

For the past several years, the division has opened the rivers to trawling when sampling indicates the shrimp have reached a size of around 36-40 heads-on count.

Supporters of the proposal have said the shrimp fishery can no longer get good money for small shrimp because imports have taken over that market. But no supporters spoke at the meeting Tuesday night. Those who came forward said that by waiting for the shrimp to get larger, the state may wait too long. And if a good rain lowered the salinity levels of the rivers, it would chase the smaller shrimp out to Pamlico Sound or to the ocean where it is dangerous for smaller boats to work. "How are you going to control that? How are you going to get them that size?" asked Floyd Gaskill of Stacy.

Floyd Gaskill also asked what would happen if the shrimp happened to grow to a size of 26-30 count in June.

"A 26-count shrimp is on his way to the ocean," he said. "He's not going to stay around long."

Christine Guthrie of Harkers Island compared the proposal to the idea of closing Cherry Point Air Station.

"People are against it because it's their livelihood," Guthrie said. "The 40-50's is what's gotten us through and gotten our mortgages paid," she said.

Several questioned the logic behind managing a fishery based on the import market.

"I think the whole concern of putting on a 26-30 count anywhere to compete with imports is ridiculous," said Pam Morris of Davis. "You can't compete with imports."

And Floyd Gaskill noted that fishermen were making $2.25 to $2.50 per pound off smaller shrimp earlier this season, before they became plentiful. Now, they're making $1.75 per pound off the 26-30 count shrimp, he said.

"The demand for them is what controls the price," he said. Fishermen also spoke out against proposals to close several areas to trawling, including the Neuse River upstream of Cherry Point and a section of the banks side of Core Sound from Drum Inlet to Wainwright Island. A proposal to set a permanent closure line at Hardesty Farms in the Newport River would, in effect, close a portion of the river that sometimes temporarily opens for a month or so, too.

Taylor said she can understand that it might be easier on state officials to set a permanent line, but she asked them to consider that a month's work upstream could put $1,000 in a fisherman's pockets. "That one month puts Christmas underneath the Christmas tree for our children," Taylor said. "That one month can make or break a lot of these fishermen."


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