Sunday, February 13, 2011

February 13, 2011 No Specks!

NCDMF Closes Speckled Trout Harvest Statewide
by Craig Holt

"For the first time, the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries has been forced to close all speckled trout fishing in North Carolina waters. And cold weather is the reason. The moratorium for commercial and recreational anglers starts Friday, Jan. 14, at noon. No one will be allowed to catch, possess or sell specks after that time.
“This action is being taken in response to recent cold-stun events affecting mainly spotted seatrout,” Dr. Louis Daniel, the NCDMF’s executive director, announced in the proclamation, which was posted Jan. 11 on the division’s website. “The intent of this action is to prevent harvest of vulnerable cold-stunned fish which may recover with warming water temperatures.
“In approving the Spotted Seatrout Fishery Management Plan, the N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission authorized the director to intervene in the event of a catastrophic event and do what is necessary in terms of temporary closures.”
Daniel said the proclamation would stay in effect until the N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission’s decides it should be lifted. The Commission’s next meeting occurs in four weeks at Pine Knoll Shores.
The coldest December on record, including a snow storm on Christmas Day, followed by a snow-and-ice storm that blanketed the state a week later, lowered temperatures in many coastal inshore waters, especially creeks where spotted seatrout live during winter. Those cold waters “stunned” trout, causing them to die because they could not swim and force oxygen over their gills.
Daniel said he was forced to err on the side of caution in proclaiming the speckled trout moratorium.
“We’ve seen some of the fish are stunned but recover, but with the (cold-stun) event of (January) 2009, plus this year’s events and the fishing pressure from commercial and recreational fishermen, I couldn’t take a chance,” he said. “I just couldn’t sit by and do nothing.”
Cold weather started affecting speckled trout (and other species) as early as December and continued almost unabated until Daniel’s proclamation, according to Beth Burns of Manteo, the biologist who heads up NCDMF’s spotted seatrout program.
“When officers checked out Campbell’s Creek (off the Pamlico Sound near Hobucken) for the third time the morning of Jan. 11 and saw hundreds of specks on the bottom and more stunned trout swimming around, it was the last straw,” she said.
The first reports of stunned speckled trout came nearly a month earlier, on Dec. 10, near Hobucken, followed by more events through New Year’s Eve, Burns said.

“We had isolated (cold-stun) events at Mixon Creek on the Pamlico, Upper Pungo Creek, Spooners Creek (Morehead City), Campbell Creek and at Turnagain Bay,” she said. “They involved tens of fish — except at Upper Pungo where we had hundreds of dead (specks). It also affected a few striped mullet, black and red drum and some menhaden.”
But weather conditions worsened, and more speck cold-kills occurred across a broader spectrum, including several huge bays.
“The worst occurred from Dec. 22 to Jan. 7, when we had thousands of dead fish in Juniper and Rose Bays spread out over a 2- to 3-week period,” Burns said.
The catch-and-possession closure for specks will include all North Carolina waters, even as far south as the South Carolina line – areas that traditionally don’t experience long periods of extremely cold weather.
“We originally thought about having (the moratorium) only north of Bear Inlet, but it would have been difficult for law enforcement to enforce,” Burns said. “We also have some tagging data that shows some of the fish in the southern part of the state may contribute to the (central coast) stock.”
The NCDMF also didn’t want to localize fishing pressure on specks in the southern part of the state and further hurt the stocks with only a northern area closure.
Daniel also said that although many young speckled trout appear to be near ocean inlets, he couldn’t be sure predators such as spiny dogfish (sharks) and striped bass wouldn’t devastate them this winter. Recent reports indicate large numbers of stripers moving south to the central coast beaches.

“You hope to have a great spring (for specks), but I couldn’t predict what would happen (offshore this winter),” he said.
Ironically, the Coastal Fisheries Reform Group sent an e-mail to Daniel on Jan. 11, asking him to close the spotted seatrout fishery in North Carolina because of cold-stun kills.
The N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission, whose members are political appointees, decided Nov. 22 to reduce the recreational creel limit of spotted sea trout to six fish of at least 14 inches with no more than two fish per day over 24 inches. Although it halted weekend commercial possession and sale of specks, it still allowed netters to set nets seven days a week.
Licensed fish dealers have until Jan. 20 to sell, offer for sale, transport or have in possession unfrozen spotted seatrout taken in the fishery prior to the closure.
The N.C. Wildlife Resources, which controls fishing in inland waters, has yet to announce a prohibition for recreational fishing for specks in the waters it manages. Commercial netting of spotted seatrout is prohibited at inland waters."

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