Commercial shrimpers can continue to harvest by trawler in the Pamlico Sound without a Clean Water Act permit, and the state will continue to manage its fisheries.
The U.S. Court of Appeals upheld last week a district court’s Sept. 17, 2021, decision that trawling in the North Carolina estuary does not violate the Clean Water Act, as alleged in a lawsuit that the North Carolina Coastal Fisheries Reform Group filed in August 2020 against a half-dozen commercial shrimping businesses.
The reform group argued that bycatch being thrown back into the water is a pollutant and disturbing sediment with trawl nets is dredging, either of which, the group contended, would require commercial shrimpers to obtain a Clean Water Act permit. The three-judge panel rejected the argument.
The district court dismissed the suit in 2021 because the Clean Water Act does not regulate bycatch — the state does — and that disturbing sediment with trawl nets does not violate the act.
The Clean Water Act establishes “the basic structure for regulating discharges of pollutants into the waters of the United States and regulating quality standards for surface waters,” the EPA explains.
“We affirm the district court’s decision that Fisheries Reform Group fails to plausibly allege that shrimp trawlers are violating the Clean Water Act by either (1) throwing their bycatch back into Pamlico Sound, or (2) disturbing sediment on the Sound’s floor with their trawl nets, thereby causing it to resettle,” Judge Julius Richardson wrote in the panel’s unanimous opinion decided Aug. 7.
The fisheries reform group, a Wilmington-based nonprofit established in 2020, “to change how the State of North Carolina manages our public trust marine resources,” filed the lawsuit against Capt. Gaston LLC, Esther Joy Inc., Hobo Seafood Inc., Lady Samaira Inc., Trawler Capt. Alfred Inc., Trawler Christina Ann Inc., and Trawlers Garland and Jeff Inc.
The reform group’s legal counsel, Jim Conner, told Coastal Review in an email that “the massive corporate-owned shrimp dredges are tearing up Pamlico Sound” and destroying fisheries across the entire region.
“Their dredges tear up the bottom and their nets capture and kill four pounds of finfish and other life for every one pound of shrimp, killing billions of fish every year that are simply dumped back into the water as pollutants,” he said. “The Court missed an opportunity to apply the clear and unambiguous wording of the Clean Water Act to protect North Carolina estuaries and fisheries.”
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