When the state announced earlier this month that the Red Drum fishery was closed, it was problematic for commercial fishermen. Commercially speaking, Red Drum is a bycatch fish, meaning it's only ever caught on accident, when trying to catch other fish. The fisherman are allowed to take in a total of about 250,000 a year -- a limit they hit much more quickly this year because Red Drum numbers are up.
So, now, when a Red Drum is caught, alive or dead, the fisherman have to throw it back in the water.
"Then we're into a public relations nightmare of discarding fish," said Jerry Schill, President of the North Carolina Fisheries Association, a trade group of commercial fisherman.
At the group's board meeting this week, they decided to take "proactive" measures to keep from being put under further regulation in the future. Those measures? Ask for more regulation.
In a proposal the group is planning to send to the Division of Marine Fisheries, the NCFA is asking that coastal fishing be off-limits for the use of large gill nets. These are the nets mostly responsible for bringing in the Red Drum.
Unfortunately, they're also the nets used to catch flounder. Which means, the move would likely be a short-term financial blow to commercial fishermen.
"There was a lot of frustration," said Schill. "I mean it was a unanimous vote, but nobody was happy leaving that meeting. I can guarantee you that."
The ultimate goal is to avoid the "public relations nightmare" until the state can reassess how to manage the Red Drum population. If there's a possibility of a change in the number of fish that can be caught each year, the last thing fishermen want is more regulation because of being seen throwing dead fish back into the water (a move that is legal, but not politically palatable for many).
The Division of Marine Fisheries would need to consider and approve the proposal before any ban of gill nets could take place. The proposal calls for all waters to be closed to gill nets as of May 1, 2014, with gradual rollbacks throughout the summer season.