The health warning, regarding eating larger king mackerel, that was recently issued by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS), should have very little effect on the upcoming king mackerel season. The reason for this conclusion is that, in spite of landing some very large king mackerel like James Winch's 82 pound and 4 ounce State Record, the great majority of the king mackerel caught off North Carolina are shorter than the 39 inch length, where consumption is warned against.
After examining several years of king mackerel catch records, the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries (NCDMF) released the news that approximately 90 per cent of the annual commercial catch and 97 per cent of the annual recreational catch are fish of less than 39 inches. These figures were released at the two public hearings that were scheduled at the end of March, to discuss the consumption advisory. This is great news for Tar Heel fishermen who had cast doubts on the upcoming season, especially for charter and commercial fishermen, who target the species as a source of income. More good news came from the South Atlantic Fisheries Management Council (SAFMC) several weeks earlier when they announced that the South Atlantic king mackerel mackerel fishery was in good condition and that they were raising the quotas for 2000.
The health warning, which was a consumption advisory regarding larger, older king mackerel, was issued by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS). It recommended that king mackerel under 33 inches were fine for unlimited consumption. King mackerel between 33 and 39 inches were recommended for reduced consumption (4 times monthly for adults and 1 time monthly for children, pregnant women, and women of childbearing age who might become pregnant). It was also recommended that king mackerel or over 39 inches not be eaten.
Keep in mind that the consumption advisory is a health warning much like the warning that is required by law on every pack of cigarettes and every can or bottle of alcoholic beverages. The NCDHHS has a responsibility to examine suspected health problem sources and warn the public, so they can make informed decisions regarding them.
This is not the first NC consumption advisory issued for fish. There have been a handful of similar advisories regarding freshwater fish. This, however, is the first for a saltwater fish. Hurricanes Dennis and Floyd struck NC while the king mackerel sampling and testing was being conducted. Since the testing was already in progress, numerous other species of fish and crustaceans were also tested and given clean bills of health.
After examining their records and verifying that the great majority of NC king mackerel are below the length recommended for non-consumption, it is not expected that the NCDMF will make any regulations changes. In fact the Finfish Committee of the North Carolina Marine Fisheries Commission (NCMFC) has already met and unanimously agreed to send no recommendation on regulation changes to the Commission. The next scheduled meeting of the NCMFC is set for May 4 and 5. The SAMFC is scheduled to meet in June. Their Gulf Coast counterpart encountered a similar situation in the Gulf of Mexico in 1997 and made no regulation changes. Using that situation as a precedent, no regulations changes are expected from the SAMFC.
I will have an article in the May Carolina Adventure, that examines this issue in detail. That magazine will begin arriving on newsstands on April 14.
For more information on this and other consumption advisories that have been issued by the NCDHHS, you can visit their web site at; www.schs.state.nc.us/epi/fish.
For more information on the NCDMF and marine fishing
regulations, you can visit their web site at; www.ncdmf.net.
Capt. Jerry Dilsaver