Environment
3:30 pm
Wed July 24, 2013

Sea Turtles Snagged; NC Regulators Suspend Gill Nets

A leatherback turtle hooked and entangled in a fishing net.
A leatherback turtle hooked and entangled in a fishing net.
Credit NMFS/SEFSC

State environmental officials are suspending certain fish nets along the coast after at least eight sea turtles were trapped. 

The state Division of Marine Fisheries says the suspension goes into effect at sunset Wednesday for what are known as large-mesh gill nets.  Anglers leave the nets out overnight this time of year to trap flounder. 

"The fish will swim into the net, get entangled in the netting meshes, and are not able to escape the net.  And the fishermen, when they go retrieve their nets in the morning, they take the fish out and that's what they catch," explains Chris Batsavage, leader of DMF's Protected Resources Section.

But at least two protected sea turtles have been reported dead and six others have been snagged in the nets since May.  A lawsuit settlement from 2010 restricts the amount of time the nets can stay in the water. Batsavage says the rules have cut down on incidents with turtles, but they do not entirely prevent them.

The DMF is seeking an Incidental Take Permit, which allows for some unintended interactions with protected species without violating the Endangered Species Act.

"I think we need to see what the Incidental Take Permit will allow us as far as interactions.  That's really the big question.  Once we see that, we'll know if any further actions need to be taken as far as managing the gill net fishery," says Batsavage.

The suspension applies to Pamlico and Upper Core Sounds from Dare to Carteret counties.  It will stay in effect until September 1.