South Atlantic Council set to debate issues

South Atlantic Council set to debate issues

The upcoming meeting of the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council Sept. 12-16 in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, is one that could greatly impact the future of recreational angling in the region. Among the items up for discussion are an ad hoc, precedent-setting reallocation of dolphin from the recreational sector to the commercial sector, and a limited entry program for the charter/for-hire industry that would serve as the first step to privatization of marine resources.

The vast majority of dolphin harvest has historically occurred in the recreational sector, which depends on an abundance of the fish to ensure anglers have the opportunity to catch some. In fact, the original Dolphin-Wahoo Fishery Management Plan recognized the importance of dolphin to the recreational sector and the looming potential conflict:

Owing to the significant importance of the dolphin/wahoo fishery to the recreational fishing community in the Atlantic, the goal of this fishery management plan is to maintain the current harvest level of dolphin and insure that no new fisheries develop. With the potential for effort shifts in the historical longline fisheries for sharks, tunas, and swordfish, these shifts or expansions into nearshore coastal waters to target dolphin could compromise the current allocation of the dolphin resource between recreational and commercial user groups. Further, these shifts in effort in the commercial fishery, dependent upon the magnitude (knowing that some dolphin trips may land over 25,000 pounds in a single trip) could result in user conflict and localized depletion in abundance.

This conflict has occurred. The historic commercial fishery was largely composed of incidental catches made while targeting other species, but that changed significantly in 2014 and 2015 when dolphin caught in the commercial longline fishery increased substantially. In 2015, the commercial fishery was closed early because it caught its entire quota. In response, the South Atlantic Council is developing options to shift uncaught recreational quota to the commercial sector.

“It has been our experience in other federally managed fisheries that it is virtually impossible to shift allocation to the recreational sector. Instead, we find that if we catch too many, they shut us down, and if we don’t catch enough, they take them away,” said Ted Venker, conservation director for Coastal Conservation Association. “Apparently, the commercial sector need only propose a change because it caught its quota and it can go to a vote without any analysis at all. The commercial bias in the federal fishery management process is appalling.”

Just as ominously, the Council is also set to examine an options paper for limiting the number of licenses in the charter/for-hire industry for coastal migratory pelagics, snapper, grouper, dolphin and wahoo.

“There is a fundamental problem with limiting the number of for-hire permits – it is certain that this first step is designed to facilitate implementation of catch shares and begin privatizing public resources, for free, for a select few,” said Venker. “We have seen these kinds of exclusionary privatization programs pit stakeholder groups against each other and wreak havoc in the Gulf of Mexico red snapper fishery. It is alarming that a few Council members are promoting those same policies here.”

The limited entry concept has very little public support; CCA, the American Sportfishing Association, the Florida Guides Association and the National Association of Charter Operators have all voiced opposition. However, those seeking to own public marine resources for their own financial benefit are extremely motivated. Recreational anglers are encouraged to attend the public comment portion of the South Atlantic Council to voice their opinions. The public comment session will be held Wednesday, Sept. 14 at the Marina Inn at Grande Dunes in Myrtle Beach. Visit to see CCA’s comments on these and other issues up for discussion.

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