It was refreshing to see The Sun News devote some attention on its editorial page recently to the local fishing industry. While the subject matter discussed in that editorial was both timely and factual, there is a much broader scope to consider than the well written opinion put forth.
Those of us who participate in this industry very well realize its far-reaching effects – economically and environmentally -- from a wide range of user groups (recreational fishing, headboat/charter fishing and commercial fishing) that have an even broader effect on our population in general and our quality of life.
In addition to those directly affected, government regulations have severely compromised the livelihoods of all the folks employed in any of the industries related to the above named user groups – from boat and fishing equipment sales to the guys who repair them.
Now add the bait catchers, ice companies, convenience stores, seafood wholesalers and retail shops, the broader accommodations industry -- including all of the restaurants – right down to the cooks, waitresses and dishwashers.
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No one can argue that proper management of our natural resources is unnecessary. The fact is that it should have been done decades ago, in appropriate measure, avoiding the heavy-handed approach being employed today.
I’m not just referring to the black sea bass closure. There have been numerous regulations, closed seasons, size limits and quotas introduced in recent years which are meant to protect the resource but have had devastating economic circumstances.
The Vermilion Snapper quota was met recently – closing the species for fishing until the first of next year. It is projected that the Grouper quota will be met within the next two weeks. That will close the species for the rest of this year and the four month spawning closure at the beginning of 2013 – for the entire East Coast. So Grouper will be closed to fishing for over six consecutive months.
The problem with the way these regulations, size limits and quotas came about is that these actions were taken utilizing the “best available science”. The fact is that there has never been anything “best” about the data available to resource management.
The answer to that is in the money. There has never been an adequate amount of money available to gather real time data about the management of our natural resources – on a state or federal level. Just like our nation’s infrastructure is crumbling from neglect, our natural resource infrastructure is suffering from many decades of use without proper oversight or planning.
Especially here in South Carolina, where we have only a token amount of job base outside the tourism industry, proper management and planning of our natural resources should be a major priority to maintain our “smiling faces – beautiful places” image – and our outdoor heritage for future generations.
I remember a fishing trip some years back when a (now retired) DNR chief was lamenting all the work his agency was charged with being drastically underfunded. It has gotten progressively worse. Now, our Department of Natural Resources has an ever expanding list of priorities and operates on less than a fraction of one percent of our state’s budget. That should be a crime.
The federal scenario is not much better. There is so much money squandered overseas with wars and foreign aid that we have no money left for maintaining our infrastructure, outdoor heritage and quality of life at home.
If we want our fishing heritage to be passed on to future generations we must invest in it now – not just by regulating what is left of the resource, but by funding the research and doing what is necessary to build the resource back to its full potential.
That includes cleaning up our estuaries and refusing to let these marine nursery grounds suffer any further degradation (non point-source pollution) at the hands of human activity.
The Sun News editorial did a great job of making the public somewhat aware of the dilemmas facing our fishing heritage. Conservation groups and the public at large would do a great service to this heritage by making our talking heads in Columbia and Washington even more acutely aware of the sense of priorities we prefer in this regard.
Regulation alone is not the answer.