LITTLE RIVER — Capt. Keith Logan is operating his charter fishing business on the 50-50 principle.
What that means for the owner of North Myrtle Beach Fishing Charters is that 50 percent of his potential post-Labor Day customers will book a trip, despite it being a catch-and-release venture.
The other 50 percent won’t book at all.
That principle is what Logan and other charter fishing business owners are having to endure as federal regulations are limiting how many pounds of fish can be caught, as well as suspended fishing for certain species out of concern for populations.
“It’s really putting a hurt on us,” Logan said. He said stringent regulations have had a 40 percent impact on his business.
Locally, there’s concern that less charter fishing will have a trickle effect and impact other facets of the tourism industry, leading to vacant hotel rooms and empty restaurants along the waterfront.
“It’s kind of like throwing a pebble in a pond and watching the ripples,” said Jennifer Walters, executive director of the Little River Chamber of Commerce.
The latest pebble came in the form of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Service closing black sea bass fishing in federal waters of the south Atlantic. The closure began Tuesday and runs through June 1
This restriction impacts the region from Cape Hatteras Light, N.C., to Key West, Fla. Little River and the rest of the Grand Strand falls into that stretch.
NOAA stated in its advisory that the black sea bass population is being overfished. The commercial annual catch limit for the 2012-13 season is 309,000 pounds and the recreational annual catch limit is 409,000 pounds.
NOAA reported that harvest levels must be kept below these numbers to prevent fish from being removed too quickly, and to rebuild the black sea bass population.
Logan, who also heads up the Grand Strand Fishing Alliance, said NOAA’s regulations go back to the Magnuson-Stevens Act of 1976. That legislation was adopted to establish a 200-mile exclusive economic zone, thereby keeping foreign fishing boats out of U.S. waters.
The Magnuson Act was amended in 2006 and called for renewed efforts to end overfishing, according to information from NOAA’s website. Logan said the changes came about after 11th-hour input from environmental groups that wanted wording in place to establish an annual catch limit on every species.
Logan takes issue with data used to close black sea bass fishing, saying the species is actually overpopulated because of past closures. He claims that is resulting in black sea bass eating different species of fish, like grouper, and causing disruption for other ecosystems.
“We see what’s happening out there,” Logan said.
U.S. Rep. Tim Scott agrees.
“The truth is that the federal government seems to be unaware of the notion of sound science,” said Scott, the Republican congressman who represents South Carolina’s 1st District, which includes Horry County and parts of Georgetown County.
Scott elaborated on the question of sound science by saying if fishermen are routinely finding abundant populations of black sea bass to catch, it might be a good idea to take another look to see if the species is truly being overfished.
He added that the federal government doesn’t take into consideration that fishermen do want to fish appropriately.
“Fishermen are in a unique position of making a living off of the fish and having to make sure that that is a sustainable living,” Scott said.
Those who make a living closer to land could also feel the effects of these federal regulations.
“We’re eating fish from Vietnam now because we can’t bring our local fish in,” said Kris Tourtellotte, a board member with the Little River Chamber of Commerce.
Tourtellotte sees Little River as a big fishing area, and the less opportunities there are to catch means a lack of fresh fish for area restaurants to serve and less fuel for marinas to sell.
Walters was in Mt. Pleasant in March for a rally in support of legislation to open the fisheries back up. The hardship the regulations put on those in the fishing industry, she recalled, was summed up by the words of a bait-and-tackle shop owner also attending: “All I can say is thank goodness for hunting season.”
She couldn’t measure the direct economic impact of the fishing regulations, but said it could amount to a $30,000 to $40,000 reduction in personal income per fisherman.
Scott said there are pieces of legislation that address the strict regulations, but he doesn’t expect they’ll be discussed until after the November elections.
Still, he remains optimistic that relief will come for fishermen.
“I think we’re heading in the right direction,” Scott said.
Contact BRAD DICKERSON at 626-0301.