North Carolina fishermen should be aware that Atlantic sturgeon will be listed as a federally endangered species effective April 6.
The Carolina and South Atlantic population segments, both of which are prevalent in North Carolina waters, will be listed as endangered.
It has been illegal to harvest Atlantic sturgeon in North Carolina coastal waters since 1991, so the immediate implications of the listing are unclear. However, the potential exists for the listing to impact both commercial and recreational fisheries.
The Endangered Species Act prohibits the take of listed species. The term “take” includes harassing, harming, pursuing, wounding, killing, trapping, capturing, or collecting the listed species. Fishermen should avoid interactions with these fish.
A National Marine Fisheries Service Status Review of Atlantic Sturgeon concluded that Atlantic sturgeon are caught as bycatch in various commercial fisheries along the entire U.S. Atlantic Coast within inland, coastal and federal waters. The final listing decision stated that based on available bycatch data, sturgeon are primarily caught in waters less than 50 meters deep by commercial and recreational fisheries using trawl and gill net gear.
The division, along with most other East Coast states, opposed this listing as unnecessary based on its review of available scientific data. These data show that Atlantic sturgeon stocks are improving coast-wide, partially as a result of the moratorium on harvest. However, once the listing takes effect, it will have the force of law and fishermen will be subject to federal fines and penalties if they interact with the fish.
The division is exploring all avenues to address this issue, and plans to draft a request for an incidental take permit under Section 10 of the Endangered Species Act. These permits allow for takes of endangered species that occur incidentally to an otherwise lawful activity under limitations specified in each permit.