MOREHEAD CITY, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina officials say commercial fishing in the state declined by weight last year even as shrimp volume increased to a record high.
The N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries issued a release this month saying fishermen sold about 54 million pounds (24 million kg) of fish and shellfish to North Carolina dealers in 2017. That's down about 9 percent from the previous year and below the five-year average.
But the $96.5 million estimated value of the catch was slightly higher than the previous year.
Biologists say the drop in volume is largely due to a decrease in hard blue crab landings by more than a quarter from the previous year.
Meanwhile, shrimp landings increased to the highest volume on record since the state began its current measurement program in 1994. The state reports that the value of the shrimp was nearly $30 million.
The data is collected through forms that North Carolina seafood dealers must fill out when they buy from fishermen who dock in the state.
Jason Rock, a state marine fisheries biologist, tells the The Virginian-Pilot newspaper that hard crabs are being overfished. The crabs were still the leading type of seafood caught by volume last year, but their sales value is below shrimp.
Rock said that surveys by biologists show drops in the number of young and adult crabs, which could be a bad sign for the species. Two years ago the state required modifications to crab pots to allow young crabs to escape the trap.
But commercial fishermen disagree with the concerns by state biologists.
Murray Bridges, a longtime waterman and owner of Endurance Seafood in Colington, said the decline in commercial catch as measured by the state can be attributed to crabbers switching to the booming shrimp industry.
"I'm out there every day," he said, adding that he opposes more restrictions.