State officials spotted 251 dead fish off Oregon Inlet and on the beach at Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge Thursday as the commercial season for striped bass reopened for two days under new rules meant to reduce losses.
More fish might be found in the surf and along beaches Friday morning, a spokeswoman for the state Division of Marine Fisheries said.
“It’s choppy out there, so we don’t know what’s washing ashore,” said the DMF’s Patricia Smith.
Attention has been focused on commercial fishing off the Outer Banks since a large kill was documented by recreational anglers and circulated on the Internet last month.
The ensuing uproar led to changing daily catch limits from 50 fish to 2,000 pounds. The new rule also allowed offloading excess catches to other properly licensed boats.
It was aimed at reducing waste and discouraging high grading, the practice of discarding legal fish for larger ones to maximize poundage within limits that had been based on numbers. It was the first time the rule had been changed in 15 years.
Smith said the fisheries agency sent a plane to investigate after receiving a call about the dead fish. Officials counted 200 offshore. Marine patrol officers found another 41 along a four-mile stretch of Pea Island and 10 were in the surf, Smith said.
It was not known if any one trawler was the source, but Smith said it appeared the dead fish were the byproduct of culling. Of the 41 fish on the beach, 24 were under the legal size of 28 inches, she said.
“Culling is a part of any fishing operation,” she said.
Also not known was whether the number of dead fish would be considered within reason for culling when numerous trawlers are just offshore. At mid-afternoon, at least four trawlers could be seen around Oregon Inlet.
An overloaded fishing net was the apparent source of hundreds of striped bass seen dead in the ocean off the Dare County coast last month.
The captain of the trawler Jamie Lynn estimated that 3,000 to 4,000 fish were released from the net because it was too heavy to bring onto the boat, the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries said in a statement.
Marine fisheries issues proclamations for a limited number of days for fishing. Additional proclamations can be issued until the state reaches an annual quota.