Anyone who knows a fisherman from around here or buys seafood regularly knows that there is a problem in our fishing industry. Commercial fishermen are struggling to support their families. It's harder and harder to get local seafood. What's at fault? The economy isn't helping, but the real culprit is current failed fishing rules that should be changed.
My dad has been a commercial fisherman for over 35 years, and now I help him run the family fishing and seafood business. I want to take it over, but how can I plan for my future in an industry that is slowly dying? We need change. With better rules, called catch shares, I see a bright future for our fishery.
Under a commercial catch share, each commercial fisherman gets a percentage of the total amount of fish for the long term, allowing him to catch it throughout the year whenever he pleases. Each fisherman can time his fishing with the needs of fish houses, tourist seasons and restaurants to provide local fish - and jobs for crewmembers - for more of the year.
Catch shares put the business of fishing back in the hands of fishermen rather than the government. Each fisherman is individually responsible for what he catches and the counting and reporting of his catch. This improves the science and data needed to make the sound management desisions, makes us less likely to overfish, and reduces the number of wasted fish.
In the end, catch shares ensure there's more fish in the sea for everyone, commercial and recreational fishermen. Seafood lovers can get their favorite local fish year-round and markets don't have to rely on as many imported fish products.
A catch share can be designed many different ways to protect our industry. We can design it to ensure that corporations don't buy up the fleet and that small-boat and new fishermen have a future. Currently there are no protections against our fleet shrinking or keeping a rich outsider from buying up all the fishing permits.
Catch shares are backed by science and a strong track record. There are hundreds around the world that have turned around fisheries like ours and improved fishing jobs, local seafood availability and preserved communities' fishing heritage.
We need a commercial catch share for our valuable snapper and grouper species. It's our best chance to protect and restore our fading fishing heritage.
The writer, a Murrells Inlet resident, is treasurer of the South Atlantic Fishermen's Association.