South Atlantic commercial and recreational fishing interests, seafood consumers form advocacy group, Tom Swatzel tapped as executive director

MURRELLS INLET, SC – A unique multistate combination of commercial and recreational fishermen, seafood dealers and wholesalers, restaurateurs, and chefs in the South Atlantic region Tuesday announced that they had united to form a nonprofit advocacy group called the Council for Sustainable Fishing to better their plight with federal fisheries management and had hired Tom Swatzel, a former regional fishery management council member and issue advocacy and political veteran as executive director.

“We came to realize that it’s in everyone’s best interest, both the commercial and recreational sectors and consumers, to band together in a united effort to optimize and sustain fishing opportunities through increased catch limits, more accurate and timely fishery management data, and to fight unnecessary and overly burdensome regulations,” Council for Sustainable Fishing President and Murrells Inlet seafood dealer Wayne Mershon said. “The fishery allocation issues between commercial and recreational fishermen in the South Atlantic are fairly well settled, so there is no reason to not work together in an effort to increase overall annual catch limits, which benefits all fishermen, the coastal economy, and helps ensure more stable seafood availability to consumers.”

“We’re very pleased to have landed Tom Swatzel as our executive director. He’s experienced with federal fisheries management policy in the South Atlantic and has a very effective track record in the public policy and political arena,” Mershon said.

“It’s a privilege for me to work for such a forward thinking group of fishing industry leaders. It takes a united effort of all fishing interests to impact the federal fisheries management process and its bureaucracy,” Swatzel said. “The timing is good because there are issues looming for the industry, like the plan for more no-fishing zones being considered by the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council this week, that could have a devastating impact on the industry and the coastal economy.”

At its meeting in Wilmington, NC this week, the SAFMC is considering approving additional deep-water Marine Protected Areas to protect speckled hind and warsaw grouper, despite advice from its science advisors that there is no scientific justification for the MPAs and the opposition of the fishery council’s snapper-grouper advisory panel.

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Swatzel served for six years as a South Carolina representative on the SAFMC, which is responsible for the management of federal fisheries off the coasts of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and east Florida to Key West.

He has also served on the SAFMC Snapper-Grouper Advisory Panel, Winyah Bay-North Inlet National Estuarine Research Reserve Advisory Board, NOAA Marine Recreational Fisheries Statistics Survey-- For-Hire Constituent Review Panel, and the Atlantic Coast Cooperative (Fisheries) Statistics Program, For-Hire Subcommittee.

In the late 1980s, Swatzel founded the Freedom to Fish Coalition, a statewide South Carolina issue advocacy group that fought fishery regulations.

In 2003, he founded South Carolinians for Responsible Government, a Columbia based statewide issue advocacy group that supports limited government and education reforms like school choice.

He was elected to the Georgetown County (SC) Council in 1994 and served two terms.

Swatzel’s firm, Swatzel Strategies, provides political campaign consulting and management to clients in several states.

A native of Hickory, North Carolina, Swatzel received a degree in marine biology from the University Of North Carolina at Wilmington.

He worked at Capt. Dick’s Marina in Murrells Inlet for 34 years, serving in a variety of capacities: deckhand, fish cleaner, head boat captain, biologist, and eventually chief executive officer.

In addition to Mershon, the founding CFSF board members are Langdon Gunter, recreational fishermen from Myrtle Beach, SC; Ann Shipman, Business Development Manager and Center of the Plate Protein Specialist with Sysco, Greer, SC; James Clark, Executive Chef at The Carolina Inn, Chapel Hill, NC; and Tony Hancock and Sean Heverin, both commercial fishermen from Jacksonville, FL.

The CFSF website is at


Restaurateur - Chef Mike Lata: “Beyond the fisherman and the dock, there are a lot of people relying on fresh local seafood to prosper.”

A transcript of Mike Lata’s testimony before the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council in Charleston, SC on September 19, 2013.

My name is Mike Lata. I own a couple restaurants here in town and I was hoping to share a few thoughts with you. Thank you for hearing my opinion. We opened a restaurant called “Fig” about ten years ago and have been selling lots of seafood over those ten years. It has been obvious to me that the people that come to Charleston want to taste and eat the local seafood.

In those ten years we developed many relationships with some great people here in the low country to the point where ten years later -- a few national awards. And with all eyes on the Charleston food scene, we were inspired to open a restaurant called “The Ordinary”, which was a salute to our local fishermen and oystermen and crabbers, et cetera.

I am kind of new to this; politics, if you will. But what has become apparent to me is that the regulations and the decisions that go into changing the regulations affects more than just the fishermen. Now that we have this national reputation as a food town and I have this seafood restaurant called “The Ordinary”, people are traveling from all over the country, as near as these drive-in communities of Charlotte and Atlanta, but as far as everyone on the west coast to have the food in Charleston and taste what we do. 

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David Nelson: Deep-water species are rebuilding in a healthy manner

October 28, 2013

To: South Atlantic Council

Soon this Council will be considering an expansion of MPA's to protect the Warsaw and Speckled Hind.  Neither of these two species have a stock assessment and the data is extremely limited mainly because the historical exploitation rate of these two species has been relatively low. 

In the entire history of the Warsaw Grouper and Speckled Hind fisheries, the amount of exploitation of these two species has been limited by a number of factors.  The need or desire to fish depths beyond 150 feet did not begin until the late 1970's as the red snapper fishery was still very strong inshore.  By the late 1970's and early 80's the bottom long line fishery developed and then was banned in 1992.  The fishery that is tied directly to these two species is the Snowy Grouper fishery and both were limited bycatch in this fishery.  At no point from the 1970's to the late 1990's, were these two species target species (only bycatch) for any fisherman at any point in the South Atlantic and then their possession was banned all together.  Both of these are the reasons the data is so limited.  

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Wayne Mershon: Comments to the South Atlantic Council on MPAs

CFSF President Wayne Mershon's testimony before the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council in Charleston, SC on September 19, 2013:

I’m Wayne Mershon, a snapper-grouper dealer from Murrells Inlet.

I want to express my opposition to the consideration of any more deep-water MPAs through Snapper-Grouper Regulatory Amendment 17.

The current snapper-grouper regulations have had a severe financial impact on commercial fishermen and dealers.  We’re struggling to survive.

The fishery council needs to follow the advice of its Scientific and Statistical Committee and analyze the impact of current snapper-grouper regulations on speckled hind and warsaw grouper stocks before pursuing any additional MPAs.

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Op-Ed: No-fishing zones can’t be justified, hurt coastal economy

By Tom Swatzel

Recreational and commercial fishermen and coastal business should be very concerned about an effort by the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (SAFMC) to create more no-fishing zones off North and South Carolina, Georgia and east Florida in a misguided reaction to radical environmental groups that are pushing for extraordinary and unjustifiable protections for two deep-water grouper species.

At its meeting next week in Charleston, the SAFMC will consider approving up to 18 new Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), encompassing nearly 1,350 square miles of ocean, that were recommended by the council’s MPA Workgroup as no-fishing zones for bottom fishing and even trolling in an effort to reduce the possible bycatch of speckled hind and warsaw grouper.

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