Local fishermen and various organizations are concerned about a proposal that could close areas off the South Atlantic coast to snapper-grouper fishing.
The Snapper Grouper Amendment 36 is designed 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 by closing snapper-grouper fishing in those areas.
One of the 11 candidate spawning sites under consideration for a Special Management Zone (SMZ) is the famed Georgetown Hole, located about 55 miles southeast of the Winyah Bay jetties.
The Georgetown Hole has always been one of the top spots along the Continental Shelf for South Carolina commercial and recreational anglers, whether bottom fishing or trolling.
The sprawling area features ledges and drop offs that hold a variety of bottom fish including numerous species of snapper and grouper. Sportfish such as dolphin, wahoo, tuna and billfish also frequent the area and are targeted by trolling boats.
We encourage you to keep in mind the need to balance proactive measures with the needs of small businesses. The local fishing industry is a key part of our tourism industry. Any measures undertaken to enhance the management of our fisheries must not be a threat to the success of those businesses and the visitors they serve.”
Brad Dean, president of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce
About 35 people attended a meeting last week at the Murrells Inlet Community Center to hear more about the proposal.
“It's a unique shelf elbow that sticks out there, a real strong jut in the continental shelf that drops off into deep water,” said Chris Conklin, a current member of the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council who was the acting chairman at the meeting. “There's been research done in other areas that has proven fish migrate to spots like that on lunar cycles and aggregate to spawn. The idea is the council wants to preserve spots like that to leave fish alone while they're trying to spawn.”
Trolling would be unaffected as the spawning SMZs would only consider prohibiting fishing for snapper-grouper species.
There are four sub-alternatives for closed Spawning SMZs in the Georgetown Hole area ranging in size from one to 15.2 square miles. The council could also decide to take no action.
700 square miles Marine Protected Areas already in place off the Southeast coast from North Carolina to Key West, Fla.
Many fishermen question whether more bottom closures are necessary considering there are already about 700 square miles of Marine Protected Areas already in place off the Southeast coast from North Carolina to Key West, Fla., and a four-month Shallow-Water Grouper Spawning Season Closure that occurs each January through April.
In addition, there are nearly 24,000 square miles of existing deep-water coral Habitat Areas of Particular Concern in the region in which bottom fishing is restricted by prohibitions on anchoring and bottom longlines.
“If the larger (15.2 square-mile) area was closed it would hurt commercial fishing,” said Conklin, owner-operator of Seven Seas Seafood in Murrells Inlet. “The one square mile, not so much. We definitely can't afford (a closure bigger than a mile). I still wonder if we can afford that.”
Council member Mel Bell of the S.C. Department of Natural Resources was present at the meeting, along with Conklin.
The Council for Sustainable Fishing and the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce were among the organizations that voiced concerns over additional closed areas.
“We are very wary of the proposal to restrict bottom-fishing in the Special Management Zones along the East Coast,” chamber president Brad Dean said in the letter. “Currently there are large, expansive areas of protected marine areas, including deep-water coral Habitat of Particular Concern, in which fishing is prohibited and/or greatly restricted. Likewise we are not aware of any systematic approach to monitoring the effectiveness of these closed areas, must less expansion of restricted areas.”
Dean also urged the council to keep the local fishing community in mind when making decisions on closures.
“We encourage you to keep in mind the need to balance proactive measures with the needs of small businesses,” he said in the letter. “The local fishing industry is a key part of our tourism industry. Any measures undertaken to enhance the management of our fisheries must not be a threat to the success of those businesses and the visitors they serve.”
If it was closed down, (the clause) would be for all areas to have a 10-year period where the government would have to prove spawning is going on instead of just closing it and leaving it alone.”
Chris Conklin, a current member of the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council
Wayne Mershon, president of the Council for Sustainable Fishing based in Murrells Inlet, spoke at the public hearing last week. Mershon is a member of the SAFMC's Snapper-Grouper Advisory Panel and proposed an area offshore of the existing Northern S.C. MPA or an expansion of that MPA be considered in lieu of the Georgetown Hole SMZ options.
“Should the fishery council decide to move forward anyway with these SMZs, we ask that they adopt the alternatives with the smallest possible footprint to limit impacts on fishermen and communities,” said Tom Swatzel, a former SAFMC council member and executive director of the Council for Sustainable Fishing.
Fishermen also are concerned that there is no evaluation or monitoring of the effects of the already-established MPAs taking place, a point raised in Dean's letter.
Conklin has proposed a Sunset Clause that would require a 10-year period during which any SMZs put in place would be monitored for spawning activity.
“If it was closed down, (the clause) would be for all areas to have a 10-year period where the government would have to prove spawning is going on instead of just closing it and leaving it alone,” Conklin said.
The SAFMC will review public hearing comments and revise the amendment at its September meeting in Hilton Head Island. Final approval of the amendment could take place at the council's December meeting in Atlantic Beach, N.C.
Have your say
Public comments on the proposed closure are encouraged and can be submitted via:
E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org (Reference the name of the amendment you are submitting comments about in the subject line of your e-mail)
Fax: (843) 769-4520
Mail: Robert Mahood, Executive Director, SAFMC, 4055 Faber Place Drive, Suite 201, N. Charleston, SC 29405