South Carolina anglers question federal council appointment

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.”

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