Scott Whitaker, executive director of Coastal Conservation Association South Carolina, is on the banquet trail, and next weekend’s stop is right here on the Grand Strand with the Murrells Inlet-based Waccamaw Chapter.
CCA has chapters in 17 states, including 15 on the East Coast and Gulf Coast from Maine to Texas, plus Washington and Oregon on the West Coast.
The grassroots organization has been around for 36 years after being founded in Texas in response to oppressive inshore netting of red drum and spotted seatrout. CCA continues to work toward sustaining the health of saltwater fisheries, both inshore and offshore, and is always a watchdog for recreational anglers.
“CCA just keeps working on the coast and trying to execute the mission the organization is all about,” Whitaker said earlier this week.
CCA’s stated mission is “to advise and educate the public on conservation of marine resources. The objective of CCA is to conserve, promote, and enhance the present and future availability of those coastal resources for the benefit and enjoyment of the general public.”
Whitaker will be the emcee of the Waccamaw Chapter’s banquet, the Celebrating Conservation Banquet and Auction, on March 23 outside at The Beaver Bar in Murrells Inlet.
While the organization is active on the national, state and local levels, Waccamaw Chapter Chairman Chris Hawley heads the local efforts of CCA.
“It’s another great year to be part of CCA South Carolina, especially the Waccamaw Chapter, but I’m biased to our area,” Hawley said. “We should all be proud of what we are doing to help our local waters and fisheries, and that’s putting our money where our mouths are.”
Hawley is particularly proud of work done by CCA locally through the South Carolina Oyster Restoration and Enhancement (SCORE) program.
“With two oyster reefs already completed in Murrells Inlet, and another to come in 2013, and more locations to be determined in the Pawleys Island/North Inlet area, we are making huge strides in our local marine conservation efforts,” Hawley said. “These oyster restoration projects help our local fisheries, our water quality and our overall enjoyment of the resource we love the most.”
Undoubtedly the biggest issue recreational anglers are currently encountering is the stifling regulations the National Marine Fisheries Service has on bottom fishing, or reef fishing, off the South Atlantic coast.
Black sea bass, vermilion snapper and grouper, which compose the majority of fish caught on local reefs, are all under some type of seasonal closure or strict quota that results in a quick closure to the fishing season for that species.
From January through March of each year, bottom fishermen have virtually no reason to go fishing with black sea bass, vermilion snapper, grouper and red snapper all closed.
The fish most commonly caught on bottom fishing trips – black sea bass – are under a small annual quota and were only open to recreational harvest for 94 days, from June 1 to September 4, during the 2012-2013 fishing season.
Rep. Stephen Goldfinch, Jr., R-Murrells Inlet, has sponsored a bill that – if approved into law – would open up a year-round season for black bass within state waters, which extend to 3 miles offshore.
If approved, it would enable South Carolina to take over jurisdiction of black sea bass from the federal government in state waters.
CCA has the recreational fisherman’s back, and is fighting for more flexibility in fisheries laws in cases such as black sea bass, which by all accounts are plentiful on local reefs.
“The legislation filed by [Rep. Goldfinch] is simply a reflection of the ongoing problems anglers are seeing in federal fisheries management,” said Mike Able, CCA South Carolina’s Government Relations committee chairman. “No one wants to go backwards with regard to the conservation of this important recreational species, but neither should anyone be content with a management regime that seems unable or unwilling to find a way to reap the benefits of success
“To many anglers, federal management is broken and rather than hoping that NOAA Fisheries will someday figure out how to copy the success of the states, CCA South Carolina believes that proposals to allow the states to take greater control of management deserve serious consideration.”
The annual banquets held by each chapter provide the huge majority of the funds with which CCA operates. The Murrells Inlet stop at The Beaver Bar is one of 12 in the Palmetto State in which Whitaker will play a huge role.
“It keeps me busy,” Whitaker said.
The banquet begins at 6 p.m. on March 23, a Saturday, with a social hour, during which attendees can bid on silent-auction items with a marine theme and purchase raffle tickets for fishing-related items to be drawn later.
Dinner, catered by The Beaver Bar, will include seared yellowfin tuna, boiled shrimp, a pig-pickin’ and inlet fried flounder among other many other items.
The night will be capped by a live auction offering items including a NAPA Valley wine country trip, hog hunt from a helicopter, Louisiana redfish trip and health and beauty packages for the ladies. Among the raffle items will be the ever-popular Beer For A Year.
“The banquet will be a great party for the whole family, but it is truly a celebration of our conservation efforts and for that I’m extremely proud,” Hawley said.
For more information on tickets ($50 per person, $75 per couple), which include a year’s membership to CCA, or sponsorships contact Hawley at 843-455-0371 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
OIFC Spring Kickoff
The Ocean Isle Fishing Center in Ocean Isle Beach, N.C., is staging a wide-ranging spring fishing kickoff event Saturday, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
In a twist on the standard seminar format, several captains from the OIFC will hold Q&A sessions on inshore fishing, offshore fishing and cast-net throwing.
The event will also include a used tackle sales forum, line spooling, tackle clearance sale, complimentary USCG boat safety inspections and trailer backing demonstrations.
For more information, call 910-575-3474.