Outdoors Column: Legislators pushing to limit Marine Protected Areas

For The Sun NewsMarch 20, 2014 

In 2009, eight Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) were established in the offshore waters of the South Atlantic Region, including four within areas frequented by South Carolina fishermen.

The MPAs are designed to protect long-lived, snapper-grouper species such as speckled hind and warsaw grouper that are found in deep water by not allowing any bottom fishing within the designated area of the MPA.

While the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (SAFMC) continues to consider establishing more MPAs off the South Atlantic Coast, the South Carolina Legislature is on the verge of saying enough is enough.

Rep. Stephen Goldfinch (R-Murrells Inlet) is the sponsor of a non-binding resolution opposing more MPAs off the South Atlantic coast. The bill – House Bill 4596 – has already been approved by the S.C. House of Representatives and sent to the Senate.

Goldfinch and 33 co-signers are opposed to the SAFMC’s Snapper-Grouper Regulatory Amendment 17 that is considering modifications to existing MPAs and the addition of new MPAs to further reduce by-catch mortality of speckled hind and warsaw grouper and increase protection to their deep-water habitat.

“We don’t want another 40 miles of no fishing zones,” said Goldfinch. “It’s not acceptable to me and I don’t think it’s acceptable to the General Assembly based on how the bill is going. [The existing MPAs are] killing the economy [on the coast] and we can’t have any more of it.”

The wording in the bill states that the SAFMC’s Scientific and Statistical Committee stated to the council in an April 2012 report that it “cannot determine what benefits an additional closure will provide to the stocks of speckled hind and warsaw grouper, what amount of area closure is necessary to reduce by-catch mortality or if additional closed areas are even necessary.”

The report goes on to state, “Given all of the current regulations that affect other snapper-grouper species, it is possible overfishing for speckled hind and warsaw grouper is no longer occurring.”

Speckled hind and warsaw grouper already receive indirect protection from a shallow-water grouper spawning season closure that is in effect from Jan. 1 through April 30 each year. During that closure, grouper species including gag, black, red, scamp, red hind, rock hind, coney, graysby, yellowfin and yellowmouth all cannot be harvested and must be released.

Those statements to the SAFMC, from its own committee, are all Goldfinch needs to hear.

“The committee said it is questionable whether [more MPAs] would protect the resource and it looks like the SAFMC is pushing for it anyway,” said Goldfinch. “We oppose any further non-science based MPAs.”

At the SAFMC’s meeting in September 2013, the Purpose and Need for Snapper-Grouper Regulatory Amendment 17 was revised and the council requested presentations on existing research, law enforcement and outreach in the eight existing deep-water MPAs. The council received the requested presentations and reviewed the draft amendment at a December 2013 meeting.

At that meeting, the council passed a motion to take all MPA alternatives to scoping in August 2014. Scoping meetings provide an opportunity for the public to give its input before the SAFMC has taken a position on a management issue.

The Snapper-Grouper Regulatory Amendment 17 is at the beginning of the SAFMC’s decision-making process, with scoping and public meetings still to come.

Goldfinch wants the SAFMC, which includes three members from South Carolina (Chris Conklin, Mel Bell and David Cupka), to hear his stance on the issue, and that of a unified S.C. General Assembly if the bill passes.

“We’re asking [the SAFMC] to respect our position and vote accordingly,” said Goldfinch. “Those three members on the SAFMC are appointed by the Governor, and I hope our representatives will [vote against additional MPAs].”

CCA Banquet

Coastal Conservation Association’s Waccamaw Chapter will present its Celebrating Conservation Banquet & Auction tonight, 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., at Sunnyside Plantation, located at 369 Sunnyside Drive in Murrells Inlet.

Tickets are $60 for individuals, $85 for couples and include a year’s membership to CCA.

For more information, contact Chris Hawley at 843-455-0371 or chawley24@gmail.com.

Contact GREGG HOLSHOUSER at 651-9028 or wholshouser@sc.rr.com.

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