Legal battle brewing over where shrimp trawlers can fish in North Carolina

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(WNCT) — One conservation group in North Carolina is taking a stand, saying fish like Gray Trout and Croaker can’t survive if commercial shrimp trawlers are allowed to run their nets in the Pamlico Sound.

“We’ve seen a decline in the past 40 years in our fin fish populations, most recently the southern flounder, which is probably the most favorite fish we have here in North Carolina,” said Joe Albea, a spokesperson for the NC Coastal Fisheries Reform Group.

The decline in fin fish populations concerns Albea.

“I remember back in the 70’s, how good the fishing was there,” said Albea.

Albea believes commercial shrimp trawlers are to blame.

“Over the last 10 years, billions of small fish have been killed in that fishery to harvest shrimp that could be caught in the ocean,” said Albea.

He says trawlers pick up more than just shrimp.

The fin fish hauled in end up dying, then they’re dumped back in the Pamlico Sound.

Albea believes that “bycatch dumping” violates pollution regulations under the Clean Water Act.

So, his group filed a notice to the Department of Environmental Quality, Division of Marine Fisheries, and North Carolina based shrimp trawlers that if something isn’t done, the group will file a citizen suit.

“We feel like trawling with the big boats has continued to keep our fin fish populations at an all time low, and all we want to do is fix it, make it better for everybody, make it better for the commercial fishermen as well,” said Albea.

Albea says his group hopes to talk with state regulators and fishing industry leaders to find a solution before the shrimp season starts mid-summer.

He says a lawsuit would be the last resort.

WNCT reached out to the fishing industry and state regulators for their response to the group’s claims.

A representative from the Division of Marine Fisheries tells Nine on Your Side they have received the notice and are reviewing it.

The notice was filed on May 13th.

The groups involved have 60 days to respond or the NCCFRG will file a citizen suit against the parties listed.

To read the NCCFRG’s notice, click here.

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