New rules for eel farming create barriers to enforcement

By on January 12, 2018

(Virginia Institute of Marine Science)

After years of controversy, at its February 2016 meeting, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s American Eel Management Board (AEMB) granted North Carolina’s request for 200 pounds of quota for the harvest of glass eels.

Third of three parts

Since 2013, Rick Allyn, owner of American Eel Farm, had pushed to obtain the quota to catch glass eels to raise at his aquafarming facility in Jones County.

Less than two weeks later, the N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission passed a declaratory ruling to allow harvesting to take place.

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I at least two meetings during the years-long tug-of-war between the state and AEMB over the quota, the point was made that if it was provided, Allyn would not be the sole beneficiary if others wanted to harvest a portion of the 200 pounds.

With the price often reaching more than $2,000 per pound for the tiny transparent juveniles, the state’s commercial fishermen might be interested in entering the fishery. But because of the ban on exporting the glass eels out of state, the only facility that could make use of the catch would be American Eel Farm.

With no competition, Allyn could set whatever price he chose.

On June 8, 2017, state Sen. Bill Cook proposed an amendment to Senate Bill 410 named the Marine Aquaculture Development Act for which he was the primary sponsor. The amendment submitted to the Senate has Sen. Harry Brown’s name at the top and his signature on the bottom. Both are marked through and replaced with Cook’s.

The new statute exempts the purchase of eels from South Carolina and Virginia from the required state-issued import permit. The permit information includes what is being imported and from where, how many and from whom. The permit can’t be issued without a laboratory certification that the eels are free of parasites and disease.

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The provision became effective immediately, and eels will remain exempt when the the state Marine Fisheries Commission develops the regulations for the new Aquaculture Act activities, including fish pens to be allowed in public trust waters.

The statute negates collecting the information and requiring the laboratory inspection. The inspection has been required because of aquaculture spills into public waterways. Eels are often used for live bait, thus diseases and parasites can affect wild fish in coastal waters.

The new law specifies that it applies to eels imported from Virginia and South Carolina. Although Virginia doesn’t allow the harvest of glass eels, it does have an eel fishery with size limits and quota.

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Asked why the senator submitted the amendment, Jordan Hennesey, Cook’s legislative aide, responded that it was at the request of a “Jones County eel farmer.”

He also responded that: “North Carolina has some of the strictest regulations in the southeast.

“No other southeastern state requires a pathology test to import native marine organisms, except Maryland. American Eels are native to every state along the East Coast.

“While there are eels in just about every eastern state, the only state that conducts pathology tests on American Eels is in Maine. So, a North Carolina aquaculture farmer must send the eels they catch in the Chesapeake Bay about 750 miles away to Maine, where they sit in tanks for weeks until the testing is complete. When their catch finally makes it back to their farm about 30 percent of their catch will have died from the stress of their road trip.”

According to records, Allyn has been purchasing eels from other states, and although the state-issued permits were redacted before release, it appears that he has been purchasing both glass eels and larger eels to grow out for bait. Samples of the eels were sent by the sellers to a Maine laboratory for testing and were turned around within a day or two. A recent shipment showed 10 percent of the fish had parasites.

Hennesey also responded that the “costs of pathology testing puts North Carolina American Eel farmers at a competitive disadvantage and that North Carolina should stand out in the southeast as a state that attracts business, not as the state with strictest regulations and most barriers to small businesses.”

Sellers send and pay for the testing of samples.

To obtain Atlantic State Marine Fisheries Commission’s OK to harvest the glass eels, the DMF Marine Patrol had to ensure that it could monitor the facility. The legislation obtained by legislators Cook and Brown will make that very difficult.

Without the import information on the permits, law enforcement will have a hard time ensuring that none of the glass eels are exported or that there aren’t glass eels being harvested that aren’t being recorded against the quota because there is now no state record of size and quantity of imports so no way to discern how many should be in the facility.

In 2017, American Eel was cited for not removing nets from the water at the prescribed time, blocking more than two-thirds of a waterway with a net and failing to provide trip ticket information to the Division of Marine Fisheries.

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