SUN NEWS Outdoors column: Georgetown Hole under consideration for SMZ

BY Gregg Holshouser

Despite approximately 700 square miles of Marine Protected Areas already in place off the Southeast Coast and a four-month Shallow-Water Grouper Spawning Season Closure that occurs each January through April, the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council is considering closing more bottom areas to snapper-grouper fishing.

Snapper Grouper Amendment 36 is intended to identify important areas of spawning habitat for snapper grouper species, including deep-water speckled hind and warsaw grouper, that can be designated for protection to enhance spawning and increase recruitment.

Among the sites under consideration for a Special Management Zone (SMZ) is the famed Georgetown Hole, a very popular bottom spot for commercial and recreational anglers. Both bottom fishing and trolling for sport fish occur in the vicinity of the Georgetown Hole, located about 55 miles southeast of the Winyah Bay jetties.

Currently, according to the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (SAFMC), Spawning SMZs would only consider prohibiting fishing for and/or possession of snapper grouper species.

In a public hearing summary of the details of Amendment 36, SAFMC staff member Gregg Waugh noted that snapper grouper species such as warsaw, snowy, gag, scamp, yellowedge and mutton snapper were among “fish that were worked up in a spawning condition” at the Georgetown Hole during research.

Local fishermen were largely against the proposal at a SAFMC public hearing Monday in Little River.

The Council for Sustainable Fishing, based out of Murrells Inlet, is pushing for any new SMZs to be minimized.

“Given the significant amount of existing protected areas for deep-water snapper grouper, it is important that the spawning Special Management Zones under consideration in Amendment 36 be kept as small as possible to reduce further adverse economic impacts on fishermen and coastal businesses,” said Tom Swatzel, Executive Director of the Council for Sustainable Fishing in a letter to SAFMC Chairman Ben Hartig.

“These SMZs should be as small as possible and not turn into MPAs by another name. We ask that the fishery council approve as preferred alternatives or sub-alternatives the SMZs that are smallest in size off each state.”

In the letter, Swatzel, a former member of the SAFMC, also noted that in addition to the MPAs “there are nearly 24,000 square miles of deep-water coral Habitat Areas of Particular Concern in the South Atlantic where bottom fishing is substantially restricted by prohibitions on anchoring and bottom longlines.”

Murrells Inlet’s Wayne Mershon, owner of Kenyon Seafood, is President of the Council for Sustainable Fishing’s Board of Directors and a member of the SAFMC’s Snapper Grouper Advisory Panel.

Mershon made a motion that was unanimously approved by the advisory panel recommending the SAFMC consider expanding the existing northern South Carolina MPA into deeper water as a Spawning SMZ in lieu of establishing a SMZ in the vicinity of the Georgetown Hole.

While the first round of public hearings on Amendment 36 has been completed, the SAFMC will continue accepting public comments via e-mail, fax or mail through 5 p.m. on May 1. However, the SAFMC is expected to schedule another round of public hearings in July and/or August.

The SAFMC will review public hearing comments and revise the amendment at its September meeting at Hilton Head Island. The SAFMC’s public hearing document states final approval of the amendment could shift to the December meeting at Atlantic Beach, N.C.

Public comments can be submitted via:

▪ E-Mail: mike.collins@safmc.net (Please reference the name of the amendment you are submitting comments about in the subject line of your e-mail).

▪ Fax: (843) 769-4520.

▪ Mail: Send written comments to Robert Mahood, Executive Director, SAFMC, 4055 Faber Place Drive, Suite 201, N. Charleston, SC 29405.

Click here for the column. 

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