LIB CAMPBELL: The Spanish Armada | Columnists
By Lib Campbell
Now I know how the Brits felt watching the Spanish Armada sail through English waters in July 1588. King Philip II tasked them with invading England with the intention of overthrowing Queen Elizabeth I. They were trying to make their case for Spain. Now I know what it must have looked like with ships lined up on the horizon. Rather scary.
The Armada of trawlers sweeping the river ahead of me tries to make a point that is not lost on those of us who have homes along this mighty river. The point is a great finger of honor for all those who practice sport fishing in the Neuse.
The Neuse River is about three miles wide where our house is, between Camp Don Lee and Oriental. The brackish water produces plaice, shrimp, crabs, bluefish, trout, croaker and many other fish for our anglers. The little boys with poles at the end of the piers and the old men who got their boats off the lifts for years were able to eat supper in just a few hours. It happens less frequently now.
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From the readings I have taken, each of these trawlers drags nets about 200 feet long. They primarily fish for shrimp, but for every pound of shrimp caught there is approximately 4 pounds of unintended bycatch that is simply thrown away. Some sources increase the weight of this bycatch to a ratio of 1 pound per 20 pounds of the aforementioned fish. The river is depleted while even the youngest and smallest fish are trapped and killed. There is something wrong with this image.
An official from CCA, an advocacy group for concerned sport fishermen, told a friend that shrimpers are hitting the mouth of the Neuse hard at the moment. He told our friend that these trawlers catch a lot of prawns but unfortunately the market is so bad that most of them go unsold and end up in freezers. As of this writing, the Trawler Armada numbers about 18. They came upriver last night and have been fishing 24/7 ever since. They came in the cloak of darkness, lights beaming on the horizon stealthily seeking their prize.
I have nothing against commercial fishermen. I know they have to make a living. But I will say that I think there is enough for all of us until some of us get greedy. It is even worse when trawling activity harms river ecosystems. No wonder there are fewer fish to catch. No wonder the flounder season is so restricted. If you look at the fishing regulations, it says flounder fishing is not allowed in 2022 except from 00:01. September 1, until 11:59 p.m. September 30. Think about it. Four weeks. One flounder per person fishing. After the holiday season. After the camps close. And when most schools have already started. There will be few children fishing on the docks. A few old men launching their boats. The flounder is so depleted that its endangered status limits its availability. And God forbid we’re snagged on a line that’s fallen into the water. Whoever pulls it, if caught by wildlife officers patrolling these waters, is heavily fined.
There’s a phenomenon happening along the shoreline ahead of us called Jubilee. This is a time of the hot summer, when the water is very calm and oxygen levels are low in the river. Fish, crabs and prawns look stunned as they approach the edge of the water and simply cling to it for hours. You can see the shape of the plaice as it slides under the sand. There were years when all you needed was a bucket, a net, and a gig to garner the bounty of the sea for an all-you-can-eat meal no one on the planet could top. In the 55 years we’ve had a house on this river, I’ve only seen this twice. Now it would be criminal to play the flounder if Jubilee performed outside the regulation time limit to catch the flounder. I guess fish don’t know the rules.
I don’t understand much about politics, but I know the difference between right and wrong. And I think that kind of trawling in the Neuse is bad. Somewhere, money is at the root of this problem. PACs, lobbyists and influence peddlers are here somewhere. This is a problem that must be solved. You, dear sea fishing people, are smart. And you lawmakers also act like you’re smart. It’s on you. Fix it.
Lib Campbell is a retired Methodist pastor, retreat leader and host of the website: avirtualchurch.com. She welcomes comments at [email protected]