MURRELLS INLET, SC – The Council for Sustainable Fishing, a regional advocacy group for recreational and commercial fishing interests, Thursday applauded state Rep. Stephen Goldfinch, R-Murrells Inlet, for his letter to the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council opposing additional offshore no-fishing zones.
“We thank Rep. Goldfinch for standing up for fishing interests and the coastal economy and his recognition that there is simply no justification for any additional no-fishing areas in the South Atlantic,” Council for Sustainable Fishing Executive Director Tom Swatzel said. “Rep. Goldfinch understands that fishermen and related businesses have been struggling with difficult catch limits that have produced substantial economic hardships and that the last thing we need right now is to close off productive fishing grounds unnecessarily.”
“As a state House member representing coastal areas of the Georgetown and Charleston counties, I have great concern about the economic impacts of any additional live bottom areas being closed to fishing, particularly an area as vital and productive as the Georgetown Hole,” Goldfinch wrote in the letter. “As an experienced offshore fisherman, I know first hand about fishing in the Georgetown Hole and how important the area is for commercial and recreational fishermen.“
Click here for the Goldfinch letter.
The SAFMC has proposed eight offshore areas from North Carolina to Key West, totaling about 70 sq. miles, be designated as spawning Special Management Zones that would prohibit bottom fishing through Amendment 36 to its snapper-grouper fishery management plan. The largest of the proposed SMZs at 15.2 sq. miles is the famed Georgetown Hole located 55 miles off Georgetown.
The SMZ plan is not part of any fishery rebuilding plan and not required by federal law for fishery sustainability.
“Not only are the live bottom Special Management Zones in the amendment not required, they are duplicative of the eight existing deep-water Marine Protected Areas in the purpose of protecting spawning snapper and grouper,” Goldfinch said. “I respectfully ask the fishery council to stop any further consideration of live bottom spawning Special Management Zones until the existing Marine Protected Areas have been evaluated as to their effectiveness in protecting spawning snapper and grouper.”
The SAFMC and NOAA approved about 700 sq. miles of no-bottom-fishing Marine Protected Areas that were implemented in 2009 to also provide protection to snapper and grouper species. The SAFMC and NOAA have also designated nearly 24,000 sq. miles of deep-water coral habitat in the South Atlantic areas of particular concern in which bottom fishing is substantially restricted by prohibitions on anchoring and bottom longlines.
“One of the especially troubling aspects of the fishery council’s pursuit of these duplicative spawning SMZs in Amendment 36 is that six years after the MPAs have been in place, there has been no systematic monitoring to determine how effective the MPAs have been in protecting snapper and grouper because the council has yet to adopt a system monitoring and evaluation plan,” Goldfinch said. “Until the council and NOAA Fisheries can properly assess spawning activity and other fishery biological information within the existing MPAs, it’s wrong and unfair to fishermen and fishing communities to close more live bottom areas without solid justification.”
This month, the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce raised concerns about the proposed closed fishing areas in a letter to the SAFMC.
“We are very wary of the proposal to restrict bottom-fishing in the Special Management Zones along the East Coast,” chamber president Brad Dean said in the letter. “Currently there are large, expansive areas of protected marine areas, including deep-water coral Habitat of Particular Concern, in which fishing is prohibited and/or greatly restricted. Likewise we are not aware of any systematic approach to monitoring the effectiveness of these closed areas, must less expansion of restricted areas.”
“We encourage you to keep in mind the need to balance proactive measures with the needs of small businesses. The local fishing industry is a key part of our tourism industry. Any measures undertaken to enhance the management of our fisheries must not be a threat to the success of those businesses and the visitors they serve,” Dean said.
Click here for the chamber of commerce letter.
Both Goldfinch and Swatzel agree with SAFMC efforts in Amendment 36 to designate experimental artificial reefs off South Carolina as no-fishing SMZs.
“The SC Dept. of Natural Resources has led efforts off our state to build artificial reefs on unproductive sandy bottom, not for fishing, but as havens for snapper and grouper that will build fishery biomass without closing live bottom areas and harming fishermen. I very much support these efforts, as I believe most fishery stakeholders do,” Goldfinch said.
The SAFMC is taking public comments on Amendment 36 through this month and could take final action by the end of the year.
The SAFMC, headquartered in Charleston, SC, is responsible for the conservation and management of federal offshore fish stocks from NC to Key West.
The Council for Sustainable Fishing, based in Murrells Inlet, is a nonprofit organization that advocates optimizing and sustaining fishing opportunities for commercial and recreational fishermen in South Atlantic region.
The CFSF website is Sustainablefishing.org.