The Final Fish.

by Betty Alfaro-Argueta

Overfishing in North Carolina has become a major concern for coastal communities, especially over the last half century. Since the early 1800’s, oyster abundance in the upper Chesapeake Bay has declined by 99.7%, and since 1980, there has been a 92% decline. Although disease is responsible for a significant number of these deaths, fishing has been shown to have more intense impacts.[1] Similar drops in population have been seen across many species along the NC coast, beyond the Chesapeake Bay. These fisheries are in danger, and the fish death toll is quickly increasing across species.[2] To ensure commercial, subsistence, and recreational fishing are protected in the future, a ban must be implemented now to give populations the time they need to rebound.

For example, flounder season has been shortening in recent years, and the catch limit is now one fish per day with a minimum length of 15 inches, all due to the decrease in population and increase in commercial fishing activity.[3] In 2022, 70% of the projected total flounder harvest was allocated to commercial fishing, so only 30% (roughly 160,000 landings for three seasons) are available for recreational fishing, although this amount was greatly exceeded in 2021 as it does not meet the demand of recreational fishers.[4]

NC fisheries for weakfish (gray trout), Atlantic croaker, spot, river herring, estuarine striped bass, and Southern flounder are collapsing if they haven’t already fully collapsed, all due to commercial overfishing and exploitation. The state says habitat issues, water quality, a small number of young fish entering the fishery, and many other environmental issues are contributing to the overfishing conditions.[5]

To combat this issue, I would argue in favor of a moratorium or temporary ban on fishing. A ban would give nature time to rediscover equilibrium, and fish populations would be able to recover and return to past numbers, at least partially. I would recommend higher fines for those who are found breaking regulations, and those fines should be higher than the profit that would come from selling or using those unlawful landings. 

Both state and federal funding should be put towards more security, ensuring that fishermen are more fearful of the stricter regulations, further encouraging them to respect fishing limits and waste management rules. Ideally, upwards of $1 billion could be allocated to protecting these fisheries – through security systems, stricter licensing processes, and publicizing and enforcing fines – with that amount being based on the estimated monetary value of the North Carolinian trout industry alone.[6] More security would also bring in more revenue as more people are caught in the act, forcing more fines to be distributed and paid. With enough infractions, losing one’s fishing license might be a necessary evil, as this would again discourage fishermen from continuing to cause harm, even those that can afford to pay multiple fines with no financial strain.

            The state must step in to regulate fishing, otherwise resources will be abused for individual gain. Subsidies for fishermen that are subsistence fishing or using clean and safe fishing methods, especially in fish farms, would help ensure sustainable changes. It is simply a matter of if the state government will implement these rules or continue to not only allow but encourage corporations to overfish, taking away from the livelihood of other fishermen.

[1] Wilberg, M. J., Livings, M. E., Barkman, J. S., Morris, B. T., & Robinson, J. M. (2011, August 31). Overfishing, disease, habitat loss, and potential extirpation of oysters in Upper Chesapeake Bay. Marine Ecology Progress Series.

[2] Paullin, C. (2023, January 19). House committee kills Bill Banning Menhaden Reduction Fishery in Chesapeake Bay. Virginia Mercury.

[3] McGrath, G. (2023, July 25). As flounder numbers flounder, NC fishermen stew over short recreational season. StarNews.

[4] McLaughlin, L. (2022, September 1). One fish per day: Overfishing prompts limits on NC flounder.

[5] The demise of North Carolina’s Coastal Fisheries Resources & Public’s right to fish – part 3: The tragedy of the commons. North Carolina Wildlife Federation. (2022, November 14). 

[6] Gurney, A. (2023, December 8). The billion dollar impact of North Carolina’s Mountain Trout Fishing. N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission.

3 thoughts on “The Final Fish.

  1. This is a topic I haven’t heard much about! It was helpful that you provided multiple suggestions for solutions, as we’ve discussed in class how there usually isn’t a one-size-fits-all method to solve a problem. My understanding is that out of all the options, a temporary ban would provide fish populations with the most space for an efficient recovery. If this is true, is there a program through which the government would give stipends to local fishermen while this ban is in place, since their livelihood depends on fishing?

  2. I also wasn’t aware of this overfishing problem specifically in North Carolina and it was really nice to learn about it! Like I mentioned in my blog post and to echo what you said, “Inadequate enforcement of fishing regulations leads to compliance gaps, while economic incentives, like high demand for certain fish species and limited alternative livelihood options, drive ongoing overfishing.” It is clear that states and the federal government need to do more in fixing the national overfishing issue. Your reflection on potential solutions like a moratorium or temporary ban on fishing are important aspects of working towards fixing the overfishing issue and is something I really agree with. I think another tool that could impact the coastal communities is education. My friends in high school would spend all their summers at the NC beaches. practically growing up on the beach, and I think if they learned about the impacts of overfishing and their parents were educated that could change the landscape/expectations and responsibilities of these coastal communities.

  3. I wrote my blog on aquaculture as an alternative to overfishing, so it was interesting to read about other alternatives such as a moratorium. I actually spent time last summer in Beaufort, North Carolina with a community built on the fishing industry, and the community members definitely feel the effects of overfishing. However, in addition to the impacts of overfishing on ecosystems, the fishermen also blame regulations that have been set to prevent overfishing. If a ban were administered, it would put entire communities out of work and cause devastation in local economies, so additional measures would need to be taken to ensure fishing communities can get by.

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