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

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Council for Sustainable Fishing