The North Carolina Marine Fisheries Commission is accepting public comment until Oct. 2 on more than 100 proposed rules, which include broadening protections for Division of Marine Fisheries staff from harassment while collecting data, shellfish leases and franchises, oyster sanctuaries, and shellfish sanitation procedures.
A public hearing will be held by web conference at 6 p.m. Aug. 16.
There will be a listening station set up at North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries Central District Office at 5285 Highway 70 West, Morehead City, or the public may join the meeting online. Those who wish to comment during the hearing must register to speak by noon on the day of the hearing. Those who wish to speak at the listening station may sign up when they arrive.
People can submit written comments through an online form or by mail to N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission Rules Comments, P.O. Box 769, Morehead City, N.C. 28557. Comments must be posted online or be received by the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries by 5 p.m. Oct. 2.
Links to the public hearing registration form as well as text of the proposed rules and links to join the meeting, can be found on the N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission’s 2023-2024 Proposed Rules Page.
Proposed rule changes will be presented to the Marine Fisheries Commission for final approval in November and have an earliest effective date of April 1, 2024.
Among the rule changes are proposed amendments to broaden and enhance protections for division employees from verbal, physical or sexual harassment by those engaging in fishing activities while the employees are in the process of obtaining data about fishing activity. The proposed amendments also strengthen rule language that requires fishers to cooperate with division data collection programs.
These proposed amendments are needed because the division has had increasing occurrence and severity of harassment incidences and decreasing participation in its data collection initiatives, officials said.
Many of the proposed changes include repealing several rules to reflect that the division’s shellfish relay program, or relaying of shellfish from certain polluted areas, has been discontinued.
Proposed changes to a shellfish lease rule would require that shellfish lease or franchise holders meet the listed production, marking, and permit requirements for current shellfish leases before being eligible for additional shellfish lease acreage.
This rule change is to help ensure more efficient and meaningful use of the public trust bottom by preventing persons not in good standing from precluding potential applicants from applying for a shellfish lease in affected areas, officials said.
Among the proposed amendments for oyster sanctuaries is a new rule that would add the boundaries of the two newest oyster sanctuaries at Cedar Island and Gull Shoal, and correct boundaries for three other oyster sanctuaries, which are Pea Island, Raccoon Island and Swan Island.
These changes were implemented by proclamation while the rulemaking process is undertaken, officials said.
There are several rules up for proposed readoption, amendment or repeal required by a state-mandated periodic review schedule for commercial shellfish sanitation and processing procedures.
This is to ensure that the state remains in compliance with National Shellfish Sanitation Program requirements, officials said. Many of the proposed rules codify existing practices or regulations implemented by proclamation.
For questions about the Marine Fisheries Commission rulemaking process, email Catherine Blum at Catherine.Blum@ncdenr.gov. rules coordinator for the division.