North Carolina’s Gill Net Problem (And How We Can Fix It Together)

North Carolina has a serious problem.

We are destroying our fishery with gill nets.

If you don’t know what a gill net is, it’s a floating wall of monofilament-line, designed to snare fish by their gills as they try to swim through the net mesh.

In most cases, nets are left out overnight and are pulled up in the morning, and anything that has become entangled in them is pulled into the boat.

But the net doesn’t discriminate or know regulations.

Anything that swims into it while it’s deployed is entangled, and in most cases, will thrash itself to death.

Gill nets routinely catch juvenile fish that don’t meet minimum size requirements, as well as mature fish that are over slot regulations.

These fish that fall outside of what commercial fishermen are legally allowed to keep are labeled as “discards”.

They are ripped out of the net and thrown back into the water.

Because these fish have been ensnared by their gills, removing them from the net without damaging their gills is virtually impossible.

Because of the violent removal process, independent gill net studies show that “discard” mortality rates (death after being in a gill net) average between 64%-78%.

Even if these fish survive the initial netting, they most likely die later on.

The simple fact is that gill nets kill almost everything that they come in contact with (including non-fish, such as birds, endangered turtles, and even dolphins).

Don’t believe me? Here’s a small glimpse of gill nets in action:

north carolina gill net
Source
north carolina gill net
Source
north carolina gill net
Source: Capt. Allen Jernigan
north carolina gill net redfish
Source
north carolina gill net redfish
Source

You wouldn’t think that a few commercial fishing gill nets pose a huge problem to an entire fishery, but once you look at how many fish these nets harvest, you start to see a big problem.

While only a few states still allow gill netting (with heavy restrictions), North Carolina is the last that uses gill nets in such a wide-spread commercial capacity.

North Carolina has the highest commercial harvest of any other state in the USA for Red Drum, Speckled Trout, and Southern Flounder.

We aren’t #1 by just a few pounds either, we blew the competition out of the water by HUNDREDS of THOUSANDS of pounds (which is definitely NOT a good thing)

I’ll show you.

Using 2017’s data (most recent year for all 3 fish available) here are the facts.

Keep in mind, these numbers don’t even include the discards!

Speckled Trout Commercial Landings By State

north carolina speckled trout landings
Source

Starting with Speckled Trout (aka Spotted Seatrout on this list), commercial landings in NC were 5.4x more than the next state on the list (Virginia).

Red Drum Commercial Landings By State

north carolina red drum landings
Source

For Red Drum, commercial landings in NC were 3.3x more than the next state on the list (Mississippi).

Southern Flounder Commercial Landings By State

north carolina flounder landings
Source

For flounder, numbers for NC were not reported to NOAA, so they are not on this query, but you can see the top state on this list only had 226,886 pounds.

But once we dig into the North Carolina Commercial Landings Statistics (from The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality), we find that we beat the #2 state by almost 6x more at a whopping 1.39 MILLION lbs. of flounder caught (see below):

2017 Southern Flounder Commercial Landings (by weight [lbs] and value [$])

north carolina flounder landings
Source

This overharvest has started to severely affect the recreational fishing industry as well.

In a foreboding example, take the southern flounder that we harvested 1.39 million lbs. of in 2017…

This past year in 2019, it’s season was closed entirely to recreational fisherman after the NC Division of Marine Fisheries classified the population stock as overfished.

For reference, NC recreational fisherman had kept less than 200,000lbs (see below)

Recreational Catch Statistics for Southern Flounder (2017)

north carolina recreational flounder landings
Source

The Solution

north carolina gill net meeting

The reason I’m showing you all this data is because it’s clear that North Carolina’s fisheries need your voice.

All of the decisions behind NC Fisheries Management are decided on by the DMF Committee, but they make these decisions based on feedback that they receive during public meetings (which are currently dominated by commercial fisherman).

Realizing that very few recreational anglers had been attending these meetings, several guides, fellow Salt Strong Insiders, and I traveled to New Bern to attend one of these quarterly meetings and have our voice heard.

This is the exact speech to them:

“My name is Wyatt Parcel and I am the Community Director for Salt Strong, as well as a very avid recreational angler south of here in Wilmington.

I have driven over 2 hours tonight to have my voice, as well as the hundreds of recreational anglers that are members of the Salt Strong Community, heard.

It is clear that there is a problem with the way that our fishery is being managed. We would not have the closures and current problems if this was not the case.

Members of my Community, guides, and I have observed the negative effects of this mismanagement, starting with gill nets.

We have documented (and I have pictures and videos if anybody doesn’t believe me)

  • Parasite infested redfish with open wounds and scars, clearly caused by gill nets (and in some cases, with netting still caught in their gills).
  • We’ve watched as nets decimate our creeks, hauling hundreds of trout out daily, leaving only dead fish that didn’t survive the netting.
  • We’ve watched flounder’s heads be ripped off by commercial fisherman removing them from nets, only to be discarded back into the ocean because they weren’t even legal size.

North Carolina only has one study for discard mortality from gill nets, and the only species that was evaluated was Summer Flounder.

In 2018, State observers recorded a 24% discard mortality of flounder in gill nets.

This number does not include shrimp trawl bycatch or even statistics of fish that died after being re-released.

But we know from several scientific studies conducted with these same nets in other states, the stress and injuries gill nets cause actually kill MORE fish AFTER the release.

Studies show a true discard mortality rate somewhere between 64-78%.

While redfish and seatrout discard mortality has not been studied at the same level, the trend appears to be the same based on what we recreational anglers have seen.

Banning gill nets is the first step but when you look at how many fish they take, there’s an even bigger problem.

Stats from the most recent year of data available (2017) show that North Carolina harvested more redfish, speckled trout, and flounder than any other state on the list. Let me share some facts with you:

For our speckled trout: In 2017, North Carolina commercially harvested almost 300,000 thousand pounds of trout. That’s 5.4x greater than the next state on the list.

For our state fish, the Red Drum: Our 2017 harvest was a little over 186,000 pounds. That’s 3.3 times greater than the next state on the list. To put in perspective, recreational anglers harvested less than 25 thousand lbs.

For our recently closed Southern Flounder: In 2017, commercial harvest totaled over 1.3 million lbs. To put perspective, that was almost 10x more than recreational anglers harvested that year.

This level of commercial harvest is killing our fisheries.

You can see these trends in your own data.

The commercial limits need to come down.

Stop gill netting. Stop overexploiting the fish stocks.

I am the recreational angler that NEEDS TO BE HEARD because the recreational fishing industry in NC is valued (at the low end) at 4 BILLION dollars, while the commercial fishing industry in NC is valued at a mere 78 million.

North Carolina has the potential to be a world-class fishery, but with this style of management, we might live to see the day where we don’t have a fishery at all.

Consider these comments in upcoming legislation. I am the recreational angler.

Thank you.”

Conclusion

gill nets north carolina

If YOU want to see a change in what’s happening in North Carolina’s Fisheries, please show up to these meetings to have your voice heard. If you’d like to see the list of meetings for the DMF, visit this link below:

http://portal.ncdenr.org/web/mf/dmf-public-meetings-schedules

If you cannot be there in person, please at least submit your comments via email (they read all public letters and emails during these meetings) to the DMF Committee Chairman Rob Bizzell at: R.Bizzell.mfc@ncdenr.gov

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James Harney
Member
James Harney
6 months ago

Thank you Wyatt, you can count me in on being at the meetings.

Anonymous
Anonymous
6 months ago
Reply to  Wyatt Parcel

I will be in your area tomorrow (Thursday) at sunset beach fishing with pontoon boat

joseph Hutson
joseph Hutson
6 months ago

As a native of Charleston South Carolina, I have been blessed to see our fisheries there brought to a level that is truly astounding, better than they had thought they could become. It’s about time that North Carolina come up with a strong approach towards the destruction of our fisheries. Simplest test of all that shows the effects of net fishing is to compare state to state totals. Thank you very much for this effort to bring back our fisheries where they should be. Count me in and I have many friends That would like to be a part of the solution.

Kevin Haltigan
Kevin Haltigan
6 months ago

Wyatt, as pointed out by others, my friends and I now travel to Louisiana annually to catch redfish in high numbers. Those travel dollars stay in Louisiana and support captains, business owners, their families and employees. The bite down there is ridiculous. I also go to Florida fishing once a year, same thing. I’d love nothing more than to stay right here in good ole North Carolina and catch fish, but it’s just no comparison to the fishery they have down south. This gill net issue in NC has become sad and shameful. Everyone knows the harm that is being caused by gill nets and by bottom trawlers too. I have set gill nets as a younger man, pulled recreational shrimp nets too, no more.

Thank you for standing up for NC anglers, but most of all, a fishery that is in peril.

Thomas Marks
Member
Thomas Marks
6 months ago

Wyatt, the problems you are bringing to light to us remind me of what happened on my home lake, Lake Erie. We have had a commercial fishery that wiped out lake trout, sturgeon, and near wiped out walleye. Lake Erie is shared by four states and the Provence of Ontario and managed jointly. The interests of each state and Ontario varied greatly.

It’s a long story but the essence is that sportsmen in the states got walleye designated as a game fish. Then we bought out the gill-netters. Gill netting on the US side of Lake Erie is now banned. Gill nets are still legal in Ontario where most of the commercial fishing is done.

The states and Ontario managers met every year in the winter to set the total allowable catch for each jurisdiction. There was a lot of mistrust between the sportsmen, commercial fishermen, and state managers. Every year sportsmen blamed the commercial “guys” of harvesting too much, and both mistrusted the managers each side thought was favoring the other in the harvest rates. The was a lot of hostility between all parties… it got real ugly over the years.

We all knew something had to change to improve the management policies to protect the resource and to get everyone working together. The Lake Erie Percid Management Advisory Group (LEPMAG) was formed, with fisheries biologists from each state, commercial fishery representatives, recreational and charter representatives. Dr. Michael Jones, Michigan State University Dept of Fisheries and Wildlife Quantitative Fisheries Center was the facilitator for LEPMAG. His team also did all the computer analysis of all the management models we worked on. The work we did was rather technical for this comment box, Dr. Jones wrote a book on the process we undertook.

Lake Erie has the best walleye fishery in its history. The real success was getting all interests to trust each other, work together, and establish harvest rules that protect the resource. Lake Erie Is the first lake in the Western Hemisphere to receive certification by the Marine Stewardship Council as a multi-species sustainable fisheries. Lake Erie is a template for fisheries management used around the world.

North Carolina I believe can use our LEPMAG process to establish population modeling and sustainable harvest control rules. The key is everyone has to work together. A good first step might be to reach out to Dr. Michael Jones at Michigan State University.

Gary McNeil
Member
Gary McNeil
6 months ago

As a NC fisherman, Sneads Ferry, I totally agree with you. I have seen first hand, from my boat, the waste from gill nets in the New River. I am over 76 years old and been fishing the river for a long time and have seen the damage to the fisheries.

Paul Henderson
Member
Paul Henderson
6 months ago

Way to go, brother. Let’s keep attending and get a larger LOUDER crowd next time. Where and when, please let us know.

Scott Schram
Member
Scott Schram
6 months ago

Thank you Wyatt. I witnessed gill netting first hand in October at Oregon Inlet. We were enjoying catching and releasing ~15” trout and short reds from our yaks. The netters filled their boat. Sad to think about what happened to the short drum they netted. I forwarded this page to my friends and family to spread awareness. Additionally I plan to email ncdenr.

Tad Thomas
Member
Tad Thomas
6 months ago

Great job Wyatt… while this is a very emotionally charge topic on both sides of the isle you are exactly correct in your approach in presenting our side with the numbers that are gathered by the very people that are supposed to manage our fisheries !! With the 12700 or so Saltstrong members banning together to make our voices heard maybe just maybe we can make some headway and follow suit of the the other states on the east coast to do the right thing and thus preserve such a precious commodity.

Teresa McCullough
Member
6 months ago

Wyatt, you are 100% correct and spot on with your speech, and with your speech and the CCA it might change. The biggest problem is that the Commercial guys have the Politicians in their pockets and all our government sees is the dollar amount. But if everyone in the state of NC would stop fishing, buying tackle, boats, rods, reels, etc for a year and that 4 billion dollars is not being put into the State, they might would wake up or we all just fish Freshwater and don’t go the coast and buy food, gas, hotel rooms. Just my 2 cents.

George Layton
Member
George Layton
6 months ago

GREED is what destroys our fisheries. A combination of buyouts & re-education of commercial fishermen so that they can make a decent living, can & has improved several fisheries, i.e. Florida & Louisiana. It’s a difficult undertaking for sure but, IT CAN & HAS BEEN ACCOMPLISHED !!! Hopefully, we as Salt Strong members can & will (with our thousands of members) put pressure on North Carolina legislators to do something NOW, to stop the pillaging of a great natural resource. Those of us who don’t reside in N.C. can express to the powers that be that, in fact, many of us travel to their state & spend our $$$$$ there. Tourism brings a lot more $$$$$ to the state than does commercial gill netters.

Daniel Cantrell
Member
Daniel Cantrell
6 months ago
Art Heiter
Member
Art Heiter
6 months ago

Great job Wyatt. Gil nets need to be banned. Pure and simple.

Anonymous
Anonymous
6 months ago

Where the data for how many fish the recreational angler catches.

Steven Free
Member
Steven Free
6 months ago

Yea sounds kind of like the way Florida was in the 80s the gillnets almost totally wiped out the redfish population then in 1989 a ban on all commercial fishing for reds flounder and seatrout but the main priority was the redfish in 1988 there was a no harvest for redfish then in 89 the fish and game made the law of 1 fish per angler in a slot size of between 18 and 27 inches then in 2012 after great surveying the population of the redfish it was decided to make it a 2 fish limit per person and that and the size laws remain in effect today I’m just glad fl did something about it before it was to late and your state should follow our example it’s so sad on how laws are not made until it’s almost to late to do anything about it and the real sad thing is most of the ridiculous laws that are made are made by people who aren’t even anglers they just want to be in government and have the power to do and say anything they want kind of like the nuckel heads that said the red snapper were almost gone yea that’s why so many people catch big ones because they are almost extinct a lot of hooey if you ask me all I can say is Good luck because it sounds like if someone doesn’t pull there heads out of there !@# soon you won’t be able to enjoy inshore saltwater fishing anymore!!!

Jonathan Ward
Jonathan Ward
6 months ago

I take it you have never set a gillnet before. There was almost 500,00 recreational licenses sold in nc last year compare to 5,000 commercial licenses sold. It’s hard for me to believe 5,000 people is doing all the damage and the 500,000 isn’t.

Joe Alva
Joe Alva
6 months ago
Reply to  Wyatt Parcel

Ban the nets then we could definitely have higher limits of reds trout and flounder. Just think 10x the fish if we ban commercial fishing. 40 flounder 10 reds and 40 trout per person!

Paul Henderson
Member
Paul Henderson
6 months ago
Reply to  Jonathan Ward

Well, I have set gill nets before. In Tennessee below the dams for buffalo carp. They were sold by the pound for fertilizer. The number of stripers caught and thrown back DEAD was unbelievable! One boat with two laborers and 2 nets killed more stripers in one night than all the recreational anglers below that dam would all year! They can block a creek at high tide and when falling tide is done they have wiped out EVERY fish that had come up in that creek! BAN GILL NETTING!!

Darrell Wayne Ayers
Member
Darrell Wayne Ayers
6 months ago

Great job with a tremendous insight and analytics of a real problem. I hope more will pile on the bandwagon.

Dave Otte
Member
Dave Otte
6 months ago

Great Job Wyatt! Tell them that catching redfish, flounder and specks is more fun than eating them!

Harrison Prince
Member
Harrison Prince
6 months ago

Great post, Wyatt. Maybe this post will open some eyes to the problem!

STOP WASTING TIME ON THE WATER!

Do what the “SMART ANGLERS” are doing and join the Insider Club.

Here’s what you’ll receive today when you join:

  • Weekly fishing reports and TRENDS revealing exactly where you should fish ever trip
  • Weekly “spot dissection” videos that walk you through all the best spots in your area
  • Exclusive fishing tips from the PROS you can’t find anywhere else
  • Everything you need to start catching fish more consistently (regardless if you fish out of a boat, kayak, or land).

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