The Divide Between Recreational & Commercial Fishermen: How To Manage Fisheries Stock

May 5, 2017

New legislation is working its way through the North Carolina General Assembly, and its focus is on the balance between conservation and sustainability of fish stocks. On last week’s CoastLine, Rachel Lewis Hilburn sat down with biologist Jess Hawkins, Dick Brame of Coastal Conservation Association of North Carolina, and Jerry Schill of the North Carolina Fisheries Association. While all guests share a love of fishing, their ideas about preservation are quite different…

Rachel Lewis Hilburn: How important is sustainable harvest to a fisheries management scenario?

Jess Hawkins: It's very important. So, when you when you collect the science, you're trying to determine the population levels or the sustainable aspects of that fish population and so, it's very difficult to do. So scientists like B.J. [Copeland] and myself, we used to go out and try to design studies to try to determine what the population level was. And then by knowing what the population level was or is, then you try to determine what is the acceptable take, and then you determine what Jerry was talking about, the allocation: who gets what part of the take. And so it's of utmost importance.

RLH: Dick Brame.

Dick Brame: Sustainable is in the beholder. What recreational fisherman want is different from what commercial fishermen want. We'd like a much more abundant resource.

RLH: And so that means you would like more limits on what can be taken out of the water. Is that what that means?

Dick Brame: Yes, we'd like to have more abundant resources that are easier to catch, basically.

RLH: So from your point of view— For a moment, you don't have to consider the needs—sorry, Jerry [Schill]—of commercial fishermen at all. You can you can write this ticket the way you want it to be written. What would change?

Dick Brame: Well, first you decide which species are most important recreationally. I mean, certainly we're not talking about managing crabs this way—crabs or clams or oysters or shrimp. But the important recreational fisheries, say the top 10: the blue fish, and it used to be croaker and spot, but they’ve become less and less abundant. But the species that are important to the recreational fishery should be managed for abundance, in our view.

RLH: And how is that different from managing from a commercial point of view?

Dick Brame: Well, if you had a population of fish— Say we discovered a population of widget fish. In order to manage the maximum sustainable yield, which is the gold standard, you'd fish that population down by about 40 to 50 percent. So you'd have more yield. They’d be churning more fish, producing more fish annually. We'd like to have a more abundant resource, some old fish. Not only do you want the chance to catch a fish, you want to catch a whopper every now and again to maximize the recreational fishery.

RLH: And Jerry Schill, how does that diverge from what commercial fishermen need?

Jerry Schill: Well, first of all, sustainable fisheries is critical for commercial fishermen if they want to have a future. So managing for sustainable yield is the right way to go. But in the area of providing consumers, that's what our guys do. They want the fish to be available to the fish market, the restaurant, and for people to take home to eat that don't fish. So in that regard, there has to be an economy of scale. The volume has to be there to where the average consumer— You don't want this healthy source of protein to only be available to the highest bidder. It has to be available to the lower end of the socioeconomic scale as well as the people that can afford it.