Conservation in Action: 18th Artificial Reef Deployment in CCA South Carolina’s Coastal Reefing Initiative
Habitat is a key pillar in our vision to ensure the health and conservation of South Carolina’s marine resources and anglers’ access to them. On the morning of Wednesday, October 26, CCA South Carolina, along with our long-time conservation partners, Sea Hunt Boat Company and the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR), deployed the newest addition to South Carolina’s artificial reef system. The 75’ long all-steel shrimp trawler came to rest in approximately 90’ of water ten miles off the coast of Port Royal Sound. The new reef is situated within easy reach of recreational saltwater anglers in pursuit of bottom fish and pelagic species. It will also make an attractive destination for the diving community.
This project marks the 18th artificial reef deployment in CCA South Carolina’s Coastal Reefing Initiative, which was created to expand and enhance vital marine habitat up and down South Carolina’s coastline.
SCDNR studies and monitoring indicate that fish are attracted to artificial reefs for several reasons, including food, shelter, spawning, and a distinct physical orientation point in an otherwise flat, featureless environment. These reefs will recruit large fish of interest to recreational anglers in numbers that can equal or exceed those found in naturally occurring “live bottom” areas while also providing benefits to numerous other marine species, such as crabs, shrimp, and rays. With the creation and enhancement of vital habitat annually, opportunities for recreational saltwater anglers and divers expand while the Palmetto State’s marine resources have the opportunity to flourish.
Proposed bottom closure highlights need for regulatory reform
Several years ago, red snapper anglers in the Gulf of Mexico were facing an almost inexplicable management dilemma. After several decades of conservation challenges and political gyrations, the red snapper fishery was finally rebounding at a rate far beyond expectations. In the space of just a few short years, red snapper became so abundant that it was difficult to catch anything else offshore.
Anglers soon found themselves in a “recovery trap,” which meant that since the fish were so easy to catch, NOAA Fisheries calculated to show that the entire recreational quota was being caught in a matter of days. The fishery was obviously booming, but the recreational season was getting shorter. Eventually it was set at a mere three days, and the wheels came off. Questions arose about every aspect of the fishery – was the recreational harvest data accurate? How is it possible to overfish a stock that continues to grow? Should a stock be considered recovered based on a calculation or based on what is happening in the water? And where did all these fish come from??
Flash forward past an incredible amount of debate and the Gulf states eventually were given authority to manage the private recreational sector using their own data collection systems, which are universally acknowledged to be much more robust than the federal data system. Perhaps more importantly, Congress authorized $10 million for an unprecedented, independent assessment of Gulf red snapper which eventually showed that the actual population was, conservatively, at least three times larger than previously believed. The assessment found a huge, unknown biomass of snapper on “uncharacterized bottom” – a vast unmapped area of exposed pipelines, unknown wrecks, lost cargo containers, divots in the seafloor and countless other hidden features harboring red snapper.
The results of this first-of-its-kind assessment shook the foundations of the entire Gulf red snapper management regime.
This story is ongoing in the Gulf, but it provides a roadmap for South Atlantic anglers who find themselves in an almost identical, nonsensical recovery trap. Off the states of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida, a booming red snapper population is threatening to close all bottom-fishing in the region for years. Red snapper are currently in a rebuilding plan that won’t conclude for more than two decades, but they are already so numerous that NOAA Fisheries calculates just what anglers catch as bycatch is overfishing red snapper. At the same time, the science indicates that the red snapper population is larger than at any point in recorded history.
If possible, this situation makes even less sense than what anglers experienced in the Gulf and the questions are almost exactly the same: is the bycatch data accurate? How is it possible to overfish a growing stock that is larger than it has ever been? Should a stock be considered recovered based on a calculation or based on what is happening in the water? And where did all these fish come from??
What’s driving this dilemma is a requirement that the Council end overfishing within two years of being notified of the condition. NOAA Fisheries notified the Council over a year ago that based on the last stock assessment red snapper were undergoing overfishing, so the regulatory clock is ticking – loudly. NOAA says a complete ban on directed harvest will not end the overfishing, so it believes something must be done to substantially decrease the discards (and discard mortality) to end overfishing.
The path to an ultimate solution will be difficult, but undoubtedly the South Atlantic states are going to have to take a more active role in the management of the recreational sector. NOAA Fisheries and the Magnuson-Stevens Act – the overarching law managing the nation’s marine resources – were simply not designed to manage recreational fisheries, and they do it poorly. The federal recreational data system exacerbates this problem with its inability to measure offshore catch with any precision or accuracy, and its complete inability to measure catch in-season. Changing the agency and the law is necessary, but that is a massive political undertaking that will take time. In the meantime, the states can do a better job collecting data from their own angling constituencies and begin painting a more accurate picture of the fishery. As we saw in the Gulf, this is vital.
Perhaps more importantly, an independent effort to assess the South Atlantic red snapper population very similar to the one in the Gulf is underway and it could hold the key. Is there a hidden, unknown biomass of larger, older snapper fueling this amazing recovery? Many anglers believe that to be the case and, if so, closing the entire bottom of the South Atlantic would be unnecessary. Making any decision before the results of that assessment are known is wildly premature. While the assessment is already underway, it is critical that Congress and state management agencies ensure that it has all the resources necessary to produce quality results with so much at stake economically.
The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council is set to meet Sept. 12-16 in Charleston, and Regulatory Amendment 35 – Snapper Grouper Release Mortality Reduction and Red Snapper Catch Levels – will be on the agenda. Coastal Conservation Association is urging the Council to postpone any decision on a bottom closure until the results of the independent red snapper assessment are known.
Closing the entire bottom of the South Atlantic to conserve a fishery that is larger than it has ever been makes no sense. As we saw in the Gulf, when fishery issues make no sense, it’s because the information is incomplete. The Council and NOAA owe it to the angling public to gather the best information possible and wait for the results of the assessment before even considering a bottom closure.
Columbia, S.C. – In response to mounting frustrations over federal management of red snapper in the South Atlantic, South Carolina State Sen. Stephen Goldfinch and Chip Campsen have introduced legislation that would establish regulations for red snapper caught in South Carolina waters from 0 to 3 miles offshore. If adopted, the bill would set a 365-day season in state waters, a limit of two red snapper per person per day and a minimum size of 20 inches total length. These regulations mimic those governing red snapper harvest in Georgia and Florida state waters. If passed, three of the four states in the region would now recognize red snapper management measures within their state waters.
“Statistically, and traditionally, we may not catch many red snapper in South Carolina state waters,” said Scott Whitaker, executive director for the South Carolina Chapter of the Coastal Conservation Association (CCA SC). “But if the current situation is the best that can be done after more than a decade of effort then it may be time to re-evaluate how we manage this fishery. Taken in conjunction with what other South Atlantic states have implemented, we think this bill permits the state to act within its purview and sets the stage to explore other options.”
Red snapper has been a lightning rod in fisheries management since 2008, when federal managers conducted the first modern stock assessment on the species in the South Atlantic and discovered that the stock was so overfished that consideration was given to closing all bottom fishing in a massive area of the South Atlantic to avoid red snapper mortality. Red snapper are a popular bottom dwelling fish that are subject to barotrauma when brought up suddenly from depth. Due to federal regulations permitting little to no effort by anglers for years, the population has swung so much in the other direction that anglers now report it is increasingly difficult to catch anything else. Compounding the issue, as the population expands anglers are encountering them in greater frequency and in areas not traditionally found and are forced to release them when the season is closed, some not surviving. Even if fishing for another species, red snapper “bycatch mortality” is considered so significant that federal managers say it prevents anything but a severely limited season for anglers to legally keep a red snapper.
“First, we had to stop fishing for red snapper because the population was so severely depleted. Now, after over a decade of participating in draconian recovery measures, we cannot fish for them because they are too numerous and we are killing too many as bycatch,” said Whitaker. “There has to be some equilibrium, fisheries management shouldn’t be feast or famine.”
Additional conservation regulations requiring commercial and recreational anglers to have venting tools or descending devices on board to successfully release deep-dwelling fish have been recently implemented to help address bycatch mortality. The use of such gear has not yet had a noticeable impact in calculations of bycatch mortality by NOAA Fisheries.’ Despite the limited access, even closures, and new gear requirements, instead of translating into reasonable measures to harvest the popular species, federal managers’ report the one- and two-day seasons of recent years may be here to stay.
“Anglers are recognized as some of the first conservationist. There is no question we have been and continue to be energetic participants in taking the difficult steps needed to get the species back on the right path and we have been extraordinarily patient as this fishery has recovered,” said Whitaker. “But there doesn’t seem to be a light at the end of the management tunnel regarding expanding access to red snapper. NOAA Fisheries is saying this is as good as it is ever going to get, and that simply should not be the case.”
Columbia, S.C. – With the waning hours of the legislative session in sight, members of the South Carolina House of Representatives and Senate worked diligently to come to terms on new management measures concerning one of the Palmetto State’s most popular saltwater species. Flounder, particularly Southern Flounder, have been at the forefront of much of the angling community’s attention due to its continuing downward trend. The new legislation calls for sweeping changes to management measures, science and programs, and both non-recurring and recuring funding.
“The willingness of our elected officials to work collaboratively on the issue was commendable,” said Tombo Milliken, CCA SC Government Relations Committee chairman. “Both bodies had different reads on the issue and how to go about making a course correction but in the spirit of effective public policy they took input from fisheries managers, constituents, and interested parties to forward a sound plan.”
Efforts by Representatives Lee Hewitt, Phillip Lowe, Marvin Pendarvis, Bill Hixon, and House Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee Chairman David Hiott produced and ushered a strong measure to the Senate where Fish, Game, & Forestry Committee Chairman Chip Campsen along with Stephen Goldfinch and Thomas McElveen provided the vision necessary to complete the process.
The continued decline of Southern Flounder across its geographic range is well documented by fishery managers from Texas to North Carolina. The legislation represents a conservation win that technically ends overfishing of southern flounder via reasonably adjusted size and creel limits (16 inch minimum size, 5 fish per person/10 fish per boat), creates and funds a new stocking program along with infrastructure improvements to aid and bolster a declining wild stock, and delivers a resounding new license fee structure to allow the Marine Division to address the ever-increasing tasks (stock assessments, scientific research, law enforcement, etc.) being asked of it by the angling community, fisheries managers, elected officials, and the general public. The revenue of saltwater fishing license sales go directly to the Marine Division and the expenditures are reviewed by the Saltwater Recreational Fishing Advisory Committee (SRFAC) comprised of appointed citizens.
“South Carolina is blessed with an abundance of natural wonders, which contribute to our genuinely unique and enviable quality of life. Through sound fisheries management practices, as H.3957 represents, the future of recreational flounder fishing in South Carolina has the potential to take another giant step forward; truly a proactive opportunity,” said Scott Whitaker, CCA SC executive director. “We value the dedication by our elected officials to our state’s marine resources and their efforts to seek sound management through legislation, commitment to conservation, and consideration of the publics’ continued use and open access to those resources.”
Topwater Action Program and Coastal Initiative having a lasting impact
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: April 12, 2021
Columbia, SC – Last week Coastal Conservation Association South Carolina (CCA SC), in partnership with Sea Hunt Boat Company and the Department of Natural Resources, completed the organization’s 14th artificial reef project off the Palmetto State’s coast. The 50-foot all aluminum retired sportfishing hull was deployed in approximately 60 feet of water at the Little River Offshore Reef. This project marks the second deployment CCA SC has made on this site and fish and fishermen will begin to enjoy the benefits of the structure this summer. It also completes another step in the grassroots organization’s goal of deploying reefs on all 43 of the State’s reefing sites by 2030.
“The reefing effort that is part of our Topwater Action Campaign Coastal Initiative continues to produce amazing results,” said Gary Keisler, CCA SC’s Topwater Action Campaign Chairman. “The organization recognized a need, had a vision of what could be accomplished, and we have worked tirelessly towards putting a program in place that would have a direct impact on improving the resource. It is truly a thrill to be part of and to know that generations of recreational anglers to come will enjoy these efforts.”
CCA SC established the Topwater Action Campaign in 2010 as a dedicated habitat arm of the marine conservation and angler advocate organization. The resource-first, science-based, angler advocate group has built a reputation for working towards sustainable fisheries and sound management practices that benefit both the resource and South Carolina’s recreational fishing community. With this program, CCA SC has added advocacy and stewardship of the coastal habitat to the agenda. Since its inception the program has been instrumental in recycling thousands of pounds of oyster shells annually, created 63 oyster reef sites, deployed 14 artificial reefs, funded needed fisheries research with the DNR, and donated hundreds of thousands of dollars in equipment to bolster programs in the marine field. In all, the total investment over the short life span of the program surpasses $1 million for marine habitat and fisheries enhancement.
“South Carolina is blessed with what many, including myself, believe to be the crown jewel of Atlantic coastal habitat,” said Scott Whitaker, CCA SC executive director. “Couple that with the envied sporting heritage and traditions that our state’s culture has nurtured and enjoys, and it is easy to see why this program is having such a dramatic impact on our coastal and marine resources.”
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: March 18, 2021 CONTACT: Scott Whitaker 803-865-4164
Flounder legislation passes House, heads to Senate for further consideration
Columbia, S.C. – With a vote of 106 to 3, the South Carolina House of Representatives has advanced legislation that would adjust the state’s flounder regulations with an emphasis on increasing the spawning stock of the popular species. H. 3957 was introduced in late February by a bi-partisan group of legislators based on concerns from anglers, constituents, and data from the first ever regional stock assessment indicating that the fishery continues its downward spiral. The legislation comes after 18 months of meetings and discussion among fisheries managers, the angling community, and state decisions makers.
“We are thrilled by the level of engagement that has been shown and the willingness to act by both bodies of the General Assembly” said CCA SC Government Affairs Committee Chairman, Tombo Milliken. “Recreational anglers in SC have consistently asked for conservation measures to be taken over the years and yet we find ourselves at a place that further action simply must be taken, and we have willing partners throughout the state management process eager to respond.”
South Carolina is not alone in the need to take action to address declining flounder numbers. From Texas to North Carolina, states are enacting new management steps as a response to troubling stock assessments. A first of its kind regional stock assessment provided in 2019 suggested that southern flounder harvest be reduced by 72 percent across the South Atlantic region (North Carolina to Florida), with North Carolina implementing a 45-day season for recreational anglers. Florida also acted in December to reduce its harvest.
The legislation passed in the South Carolina House of Representatives would implement a 5-fish-per-person creel limit with a maximum 10 fish boat limit. It would also implement a 16”-20” slot limit on the size of flounder, with anglers being able to retain 1 fish over that slot limit per person and a maximum of 2 per boat. While utilized in the management of other species, red drum and black drum for example in South Carolina and spotted seat trout in states such as Texas, Alabama, and Florida, the SC flounder slot limit would be the first time it has been implemented in the country for flounder management. The principle behind the measure in all the cases is the same; to bolster the larger spawning stock of females.
The legislation now resides in the Senate and has been referred to the Fish, Game, and Forestry Committee, where CCA SC anticipates additional management measures will be considered and with the same enthusiasm by members to act.
“Looking back on the process, the level of engagement from state fisheries managers at the SCDNR to frame the issue, elected officials in both bodies of the House and Senate to work on bi-partisan legislation, and from the recreational community to engage the process, has been remarkable” said Scott Whitaker, executive director of CCA SC. “We’ll see where the developments take us in the coming weeks.”
“CCA Triangle” established
“CCA Triangle” established, Topwater Action Campaign donates tags & receivers to help SCDNR with important cobia research
Columbia, SC – For over two decades the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources has been a leader in cobia research. Most recently SCDNR biologists have been tracking the movement of cobia throughout the southeast using a technology called acoustic telemetry. Valuable support to that effort has come via CCA South Carolina’s habitat program, the Topwater Action Campaign. In collaboration with long time habitat partner Sea Hunt Boat Company, CCA SC donated 20 acoustic transmitters and four receivers to SCDNR allowing biologists to increase the number of fish tagged and expand their receiver coverage to new areas off the South Carolina coast. The receiver stations, dubbed the “CCA Triangle” occur on three artificial reefs along the central coast where cobia are commonly encountered.
“CCA SC considers cobia to be one of the premier recreational fisheries in the Palmetto State and our organization has placed a high priority on the sustainability of the species for recreational anglers to enjoy,” said Scott Whitaker, CCA SC executive director. “Between working with legislators to obtain gamefish status for the species and now with our great partners at Sea Hunt Boat Company to fund a needed program focused on tracking and monitoring of the species, we are securing both meaningful regulation and scientific research in pursuit of wise stewardship for cobia.”
The technology relies on a network of more than 850 listening devices (receivers) located throughout much of the East Coast, Caribbean, and Gulf of Mexico. Cobia are captured via rod and reel and an electronic tag is surgically implanted into the body of the fish. The tag emits a “ping” that can be recorded (a detection) when a cobia travels within ¼ mile of any one of these receivers. New battery technology allows these tags to now function for 10 years or more. When enough fish are tagged and detected on different receivers, patterns in migration begin to emerge.
SCDNR initially partnered with Florida FWC and Kennedy Space Center on this project and to date have tagged 239 cobia from Florida to South Carolina, resulting in over 100,000 detections on 579 different receivers. In recent years, biologists in North Carolina and Virginia have joined the effort, allowing for a more complete picture of regional migratory patterns.
According to Matt Perkinson, SCDNR saltwater fishing outreach coordinator, “These acoustic tags have helped us narrow down where the break between Gulf and Atlantic cobia populations occurs along the east coast of Florida and given us more insight on how cobia tend to move when they are in our area. We wouldn’t be able to collect this type of data with conventional tags alone. We’ve learned a ton about cobia since we began using these tags, but there’s still a lot more to learn. By continuing to put out more tags and receivers, we can follow patterns in migration and even evaluate things like population trends that will help us manage the fishery most effectively.”
In addition to cobia, over 60 different species including sturgeon, white sharks, southern flounder, sea turtles are commonly detected by these receivers, meaning that any increase in coverage benefits a multitude of ongoing research projects. “CCA South Carolina has been an important supporter of cobia research in South Carolina and we look forward to continuing that relationship moving forward,” Perkinson said.
Sounding the alarm on dolphin management
Fed’s history of encouraging a longline fishery for dolphin could end in disaster for recreational anglers
Dolphin are critically important to the recreational fishery in the South Atlantic, and yet manipulations by federal fisheries managers continue to encourage development of a directed longline fishery that could have a radically negative impact on the recreational fishery going forward, and may have already.
The federal emphasis on commercializing dolphin isn’t new. In 2004, the original fishery management plan for dolphin recognized it as a predominantly recreational fishery and contained a provision for a commercial trip limit of 3,000 pounds, which was specifically designed to prevent a directed commercial fishery from developing. The trip limit provision was taken to public hearing, and a majority of the Council members thought it important enough that they voted in favor of putting the trip limit in place. The NOAA Fisheries Regional Administrator removed the trip limit provision, stating it was unnecessary since longliners weren’t targeting dolphin.
In 2014-15, the commercial sector caught its entire quota of dolphin in the first five months of the year, resulting in a commercial closure from Key West to Maine for the rest of the year. The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council immediately investigated to find out who had caught all the fish so quickly. NOAA Fisheries at the time refused to divulge who had caught the fish, but representatives of the Bluewater Fishermen’s Association (BFA), a commercial fisheries organization, testified at a meeting that dolphin was only a bycatch fishery for longliners, and that they had not targeted them. BFA insisted that state-licensed boats out of North Carolina were responsible for the early closure.
In response, in 2016 the South Atlantic Council again considered a 3,000-pound commercial trip limit, but NOAA Fisheries and commercial fishing representatives opposed the move. In a compromise, it was agreed that the commercial fishery would operate with no trip limits until it hit 75 percent of its quota, and then a 4,500-pound trip limit would be enacted.
In June 2020, South Atlantic Council staff finally refuted BFA’s claims with data that showed that the bluewater longline fleet had indeed targeted and caught more than a million pounds of dolphin in 2014 and 2015, which had resulted in the early closure. Upset at being misled, members of the South Atlantic Council immediately moved to disallow longline gear in the commercial dolphin fishery as part of Dolphin-Wahoo Amendment 10. Facing opposition again from NOAA Fisheries and commercial interests, another proposal was put forth that would exempt commercial boats with a Highly Migratory Species license from the longline ban. That exemption would ultimately protect bluewater longline boats that caused the increased catches and penalize the small-scale, state-licensed boats that had been wrongly blamed for the early closure in 2015.
That is where things stand today. Amendment 10 continues to be debated by the South Atlantic Council, and now is the time for the recreational angling community to demand safeguards be put in place to prevent a directed longline fishery for dolphin from developing once and for all. As an agency dedicated to promoting and subsidizing commercial fisheries, it is clear that NOAA Fisheries intends to ignore the intent of the dolphin fishery management plan and allow a dolphin longline fishery to become established. Nurtured, encouraged and protected by NOAA Fisheries, a directed commercial longline fishery for dolphin will inevitably have a material, negative impact on the quality and availability of this highly prized sportfish that is so crucial to recreational anglers.
The South Atlantic Council next meets Sept. 14-18 and Dolphin-Wahoo Amendment 10 will be on the agenda. Contact your state’s representatives on the Council (https://safmc.net/council-members/) and urge them to protect the future of the dolphin fishery by disallowing commercial longline gear.
misses the Boat!
Columbia, S.C. – For Bryce Lyles (20) of Sumter, this week is going to be one to remember as he missed out on a brand new 2020 Sea Hunt BX 22 BR ft Bay boat with a retail value of approximately $43,000 not once, but twice, in the same week! That’s a feat that has never happened in the CCA South Carolina STAR Tournament; in fact that’s something that has only happened one other time in any of the CCA STAR tournaments in three other states.
While vacationing at Folly Beach with his family, Bryce and his dad started fishing in the Folly River on the Saturday they arrived and were having great success. He caught a redfish on Wednesday that had STAR tag #52 in it, but he was not familiar with what the tag represented. He eventually got curious enough to call CCA South Carolina several days later to see what the tag meant and was beside himself when he learned what he had missed. Furthermore, he went on to explain that in addition to tag #52, he had also caught and released tag #55 earlier that week as well!
“Hearing that he had caught two tagged fish just days apart representing a catch of $86,000 in boat motor and trailer packages was nearly too much for the young man to take,” said Scott Whitaker, executive director of CCA SC. “Needless to say, he and his dad are now both CCA SC members and registered for the tournament.”
“I have heard of CCA but was not familiar with the STAR tournament,” said Bryce. “I was completely stunned when I was told what the tags represented. You can believe my dad and I registered right after we got off the phone. If you are fishing in saltwater in the state of South Carolina and aren’t registered for STAR, let me tell you that it is not a good feeling if you catch one of those tagged reds. You can bet I’m going to be back out there looking for one.”
The STAR Tournament is now in its fourth year in SC and has been conducted in three other CCA state chapters (Texas, Louisiana, Florida) for decades in some cases. CCA SC and its tagging team release 60 slot-sized redfish in the coastal waters of South Carolina each year beginning in late spring in preparation for that year’s competition, each with a special tag indicating it is a tournament fish. The first two CCA SC members and registered tournament anglers to re-capture one of the fish win a brand new 22-foot bay boat/motor/trailer package by title sponsor Sea Hunt Boat Company, Yamaha Motors, and Wesco Trailer.
With its spectacular marine resources and fishing opportunities, the CCA SC STAR Tournament has grown by leaps and bounds each year, drawing more anglers and more industry support. More importantly, a growing number of recreational anglers and coastal visitors are introduced to the important marine advocacy and habitat work that CCA SC is doing to improve the state’s marine resources.
“We want anglers to win these prizes, and we really feel for Bryce and his family, but what an unbelievable fish story they have now. There are several people in Texas, Louisiana and Florida who have caught tagged reds without being registered, signed up immediately afterward, and eventually caught a winning fish, so there is hope!” said Whitaker. “We’ve had fish caught every year of the tournament, all with great stories of anglers just missing the prize, but the same angler catching two tags is a new one for me. It is simply unheard of – I know I’ll never forget this one, and I bet he won’t either.”
The CCA SC Star Tournament presented by Sea Hunt Boat Company runs through October 4, 2020. Anglers must be a member of CCA and registered in the tournament to win. To find out more about the tournament(s) and to register, visit www.joincca.org/startournament.
South Carolina anglers question federal council appointment
NOAA decision leaves SC anglers without voice in federal fisheries management process
Columbia, S.C. – South Carolina recreational saltwater anglers find themselves without a voice at the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council after the Department of Commerce recently announced it was replacing the state’s recreational representative with a commercial fishing interest. With each state holding three seats at the deliberative body that sets regulations and policy for fishing in federal waters, the recent round of appointments means the Palmetto State is now represented by two commercial fishing representatives and the state’s marine resource agency representative.
“I cannot recall a time when South Carolina didn’t have a single recreational angler on the Council,” said Scott Whitaker, CCA SC executive director. “It is a perplexing development. David Whitaker was up for reappointment after a single term and was recommended by Gov. Henry McMaster for another three-year term, but somewhere in the final selection process with NOAA Fisheries and the Department of Commerce, the decision was made to go around the state’s preferred candidate. That decision effectively labels the largest stakeholder in South Carolina as irrelevant.”
The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council is responsible for the conservation and management of fish stocks within the federal 200-mile limit of the Atlantic off the coasts of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and east Florida to Key West. The governors of each state recommend qualified candidates to serve up to three consecutive three-year terms, but the final selection is in the hands of NOAA Fisheries and the Department of Commerce.
“It is highly unusual to have a state in the southeastern United States with no recreational representation on the regional fishery management council,” said Jeff Angers, president of the Center for Sportfishing Policy. “In the North Pacific and Alaska, where commercial fisheries dominate, rarely, if ever, is more than a single recreational angler on the entire North Pacific Fishery Management Council. The same calculus doesn’t seem to apply in the southeastern United States where recreational fisheries are far and away the dominant stakeholder group. This is a prime example of why recreational anglers are so frustrated with the federal fisheries management process.”
“NOAA likes to talk about maintaining ‘balance’ on the councils between recreational and commercial interests, but that is a totally capricious metric that is only applied in situations like this,” said Ted Venker, conservation director for CCA. “In a state like South Carolina, there is no rational reason to have two commercial reps on the Council. NOAA Fisheries is built to foster and subsidize industrial fisheries even where they don’t exist in a meaningful way. It’s very disappointing. NOAA Fisheries has no idea how to evaluate and manage recreational fisheries which is the only way to explain how South Carolina ends up with an absurd situation like this.”