Outdoors column: Georgetown Hole under consideration for SMZ

Despite approximately 700 square miles of Marine Protected Areas already in place off the Southeast Coast and a four-month Shallow-Water Grouper Spawning Season Closure that occurs each January through April, the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council is considering closing more bottom areas to snapper-grouper fishing.

Snapper Grouper Amendment 36 is intended 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.

Among the sites under consideration for a Special Management Zone (SMZ) is the famed Georgetown Hole, a very popular bottom spot for commercial and recreational anglers. Both bottom fishing and trolling for sport fish occur in the vicinity of the Georgetown Hole, located about 55 miles southeast of the Winyah Bay jetties.

Currently, according to the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (SAFMC), Spawning SMZs would only consider prohibiting fishing for and/or possession of snapper grouper species.

In a public hearing summary of the details of Amendment 36, SAFMC staff member Gregg Waugh noted that snapper grouper species such as warsaw, snowy, gag, scamp, yellowedge and mutton snapper were among “fish that were worked up in a spawning condition” at the Georgetown Hole during research.

Local fishermen were largely against the proposal at a SAFMC public hearing Monday in Little River.

The Council for Sustainable Fishing, based out of Murrells Inlet, is pushing for any new SMZs to be minimized.

“Given the significant amount of existing protected areas for deep-water snapper grouper, it is important that the spawning Special Management Zones under consideration in Amendment 36 be kept as small as possible to reduce further adverse economic impacts on fishermen and coastal businesses,” said Tom Swatzel, Executive Director of the Council for Sustainable Fishing in a letter to SAFMC Chairman Ben Hartig.

“These SMZs should be as small as possible and not turn into MPAs by another name. We ask that the fishery council approve as preferred alternatives or sub-alternatives the SMZs that are smallest in size off each state.”

In the letter, Swatzel, a former member of the SAFMC, also noted that in addition to the MPAs “there are nearly 24,000 square miles of deep-water coral Habitat Areas of Particular Concern in the South Atlantic where bottom fishing is substantially restricted by prohibitions on anchoring and bottom longlines.”

Murrells Inlet’s Wayne Mershon, owner of Kenyon Seafood, is President of the Council for Sustainable Fishing’s Board of Directors and a member of the SAFMC’s Snapper Grouper Advisory Panel.

Mershon made a motion that was unanimously approved by the advisory panel recommending the SAFMC consider expanding the existing northern South Carolina MPA into deeper water as a Spawning SMZ in lieu of establishing a SMZ in the vicinity of the Georgetown Hole.

While the first round of public hearings on Amendment 36 has been completed, the SAFMC will continue accepting public comments via e-mail, fax or mail through 5 p.m. on May 1. However, the SAFMC is expected to schedule another round of public hearings in July and/or August.

The SAFMC will review public hearing comments and revise the amendment at its September meeting at Hilton Head Island. The SAFMC’s public hearing document states final approval of the amendment could shift to the December meeting at Atlantic Beach, N.C.

Public comments can be submitted via:

▪ E-Mail: mike.collins@safmc.net (Please reference the name of the amendment you are submitting comments about in the subject line of your e-mail).

▪ Fax: (843) 769-4520.

▪ Mail: Send written comments to Robert Mahood, Executive Director, SAFMC, 4055 Faber Place Drive, Suite 201, N. Charleston, SC 29405.

Spring Flounder Tournament

The 14th annual tournament, staged by the Grand Strand Saltwater Anglers Association, will be held Saturday in Murrells Inlet.

All anglers fishing in the event must attend the captains meeting and registration, which will be held at 6 p.m. Friday at the Beaver Bar in Murrells Inlet.

Fishing begins at 6 a.m., with weigh-in to follow at the Murrells Inlet boat ramp from 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m.

For more information on the tournament call Bill Cash at 843-237-9987 or Chick McDaniels at 843-651-2076.

Meatfish Slam

The 7th annual Meatfish Slam, targeting dolphin, wahoo and tuna, will be held next weekend, May 1-2, at Georgetown Landing Marina.

Captains meeting will be held at 6 p.m., April 30, at the marina. Boats can choose to fish one of two days, May 1 or 2, and can depart from Georgetown, Murrells Inlet or Charleston. All fish must be weighed in at Georgetown Landing Marina.

The tournament benefits Kids Chance. For more information, call (843) 546-1776.

SALTT Finale

The Student Angler League Tournament Trail concluded its inaugural season of catching and releasing red drum on Saturday.

After six tournaments, the duo of Ben Cooper and Todd Howard of Conway High School were named the SALTT champions and received $1,000 worth of fishing tackle.

Baylor Nesmith of Rosemary Middle School in Andrews finished second and earned $500 worth of fishing tackle.

Next season, SALTT coordinator Rayburn Poston plans to add a bass trail.

For more information, visit www.salttfishing.com.

IFA Redfish Tour

The IFA Redfish Tour’s Atlantic Division will stage a tournament in Georgetown May 2-3.

The event will be held at the Campbell Marine Complex, located on the Sampit River adjacent to U.S. Hwy. 17.

Two separate tournaments will be held starting with the IFA Redfish Tour event for boats on May 2, with registration and the captains meeting set for May 1 beginning at 5 p.m.

The IFA Kayak Fishing Tour will be held May 3, with registration and the captains meeting set for May 2 beginning at 6 p.m.

For more information, visit www.ifatours.com.

River Sweep

The fourth annual Little River “River Sweep” will be held Saturday, with participants focusing on cleaning up the waterways and beaches in the Little River area.

Participants will meet at 8 a.m. at the Johnny Causey Boating Facility in North Myrtle Beach. Boaters and kayakers are welcome to participate. Free rides to Waits Island aboard the Getaway Dolphin Cruise boat are available for participants.

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