SOUTH STRAND NEWS |Council based in Inlet is watchdog for fishermen

Wayne Mershon and Tom Swatzel, both of Murrells Inlet, have dedicated their lives to the rod and reel, and now they are looking out for their fellow anglers.

Federal regulations on the fishing industry over the last several years were the catalyst for Mershon and Swatzel to form the Council for Sustainable Fishing, a nonprofit watchdog group for fishermen from North Carolina to the Florida Keys.

They started the nonprofit group in December 2013.

“The way federal fisheries are managed changed in 2006 with the passage of the latest version of the Magnuson-Stevens Act,” Swatzel said. “That caused the regional fisheries councils to have to manage fisheries by different standards.”

One big issue the fishing industry faces is the “catch share” program.

“Catch share” is a general term for several fishery management strategies that allocate a specific portion of the total allowable fishery catch to individuals, cooperatives, communities, or other entities, according to the South Atlantic Fisheries Management Commission.

“Each recipient of a catch share is directly accountable to stop fishing when its specific quota is reached,” the South Atlantic commission stated.

Mershon said this program has broken the trust of fishermen and it is up for public review in the next few months.

“There is going to be a big outcry from the fishermen because nobody wants it,” Mershon said. “It puts fishermen out of business. It is going to make fishermen ban together and it will probably draw more members to our organization.”

According to the Council for Sustainable Fishing’s website, “Now, more than ever, commercial and recreational fishermen, seafood dealers and wholesalers, restaurants, and others that rely on fishing, are being economically hurt by federal fishery management policy and regulations driven by the Magnuson-Stevens Act.”

As an example, the website states, “in the South Atlantic region, since reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, snapper-grouper fishing effort from all fishing sectors combined has declined by nearly 40 percent and landings are down nearly 35 percent from peaks in 2007 and 2008.”

“That caused a lot of commercial fishermen to go out of business,” Swatzel said. “It was a concern on the part of both commercial and recreational fishing interests that there was not a group being an advocate for them in front of the South Atlantic Fisheries Council.” Mershon agreed.

“The South Atlantic Fisheries Council gained the trust of fishermen, but they used to just do whatever they wanted,” he said.

“They didn’t listen to fishermen’s concerns.”

In addition to Mershon, who serves as president, and Swatzel, who serves as the executive director, there are seven board members representing areas in South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia and Florida.

Mershon is the owner of Kenyon Seafood in Murrells Inlet, selling fresh seafood to local restaurants as well as shipping to Atlanta, North Carolina, Florida and Canada.

He has been involved with the recreational and commercial fishing industry for 34 years

Swatzel earned a degree in marine biology from the University of North Carolina, Wilmington and started working at Captain Dick’s Marina in Murrells Inlet in the 1970s.

After earning his captain’s license, he ran charter and party boats for seven years and ultimately worked for Captain Dick’s for 35 years.

He served on the South Atlantic Fisheries Council for six years, from 2007 to 2013.

The other directors are Vice President Langdon Gunter, a recreational fisherman in Myrtle Beach, Secretary/Treasurer Ann W. Shipman, business development manager in Greer, James H. Clark, executive chef at The Carolina Inn, Chapel Hill, N.C., Tony Hancock and Sean Heverin, both commercial fisherman in Jacksonville, Fla., Cheryl Fuller, director of seafood operations for Halperns’ Steak and Seafood, Atlanta, Ga., and Sonny Davis with Capt. Stacy Fishing Center, Atlantic Beach, N.C.

The Council for Sustainable Fishing meets quarterly and directors are updated on any changes to fishing regulations or policies when they occur, Swatzel said.

Capt. Mark Brown, who is a Mount Pleasant-based charter boat captain and currently serves on the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council, said it is important to have groups like the Council for Sustainable Fishing to represent the interests of fishermen.

“These groups try to keep an eye on what’s happening with fishery management and what is proposed,” Brown said. “They make recommendations, support good management and make sure the management is not economically hurting fishermen.”

He said sometimes fishery management is based on uncertainties.

“Because of that uncertainty, there is a lack of scientific data,” he said. “One of the biggest things the [South Atlantic Fisheries Management] Council and all of fishery management councils are impacted by is lack of data. It is getting better, but it takes a long period of time to quantify it, and that can be devastating to lot of fishermen.”

Mershon and Swatzel urge anyone interested in the future of the fishing industry to join the Council for Sustainable Fishing. For more information, visit www.sustainablefishing.org. To learn more about the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council, visit www.safmc.net.

Click here for the article.

Do you like this post?
Council for Sustainable Fishing