In his 18 years as Executive Director of Coastal Conservation Association South Carolina, Scott Whitaker has seen the ups and downs of the red drum population in the Palmetto State’s estuaries.
Himself an avid saltwater angler, Whitaker has a quick take on Senate bill S. 933, which has designs on reducing South Carolina’s red drum limits.
“It’s a good thing and it needs to happen,” said Whitaker Thursday morning from Columbia, one day after a S.C. Senate Fish, Game and Forestry sub-committee approved legislation that would reduce the number of red drum harvested in state waters.
The bill would:
▪ Reduce the daily bag limit for red drum from three per person to two per person.
▪ Institute a boat limit of six red drum per day. South Carolina has never had a boat limit on red drum.
The current size slot limit of 15 to 23 inches for red drum would remain the same.
South Carolina Department of Natural Resources biologists project the regulations, if implemented, would result in a 20 percent reduction in harvest of red drum.
Red drum are regionally managed by a fishery management plan governed by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, a plan that calls for each state to maintain a spawning potential ratio (SPR) of 40 percent for red drum.
After a decade of hovering between 30 and 40 percent, the SPR for red drum in South Carolina waters is currently around 20 percent.
With the increase in human population along the coast has come a sharp increase in the number of fishermen, and in turn more fishing pressure on easily accessible estuary species such as red drum, also known as redfish or spottails.
In fiscal year 2017, S.C. DNR numbers show that 430,000 people had privileges to recreationally fish in saltwater in South Carolina through a fishing license or other exemption.
In previous years, S.C. DNR used regional stock assessments (South Carolina through north Florida) to evaluate red drum stocks, but that changed in 2017.
“For the first time ever, we paid a stock assessment scientist to do an assessment on our own South Carolina fish (red drum),” said Mel Bell, of S.C. DNR’s Marine Resources Division. “The results indicated we didn’t have as high a SPR as we needed to have, and we had anglers telling us they didn’t see as many fish.”
The stock assessment was presented to the Marine Advisory Committee on Dec. 1, 2017.
“The discussion with the Marine Advisory Committee, (the proposed limit changes are) what came out of it,” said Bell. “With these numbers we could get the SPR up over 40 percent. Just taking those two simple actions and keeping the slot the same we can get the SPR up and hopefully see some better numbers in our trammel net data.”
The legislation is just getting started in the legislative process, though.
Next, S. 933 will go before the full Fish, Game and Forestry committee, possibly next week, then move on to the Senate Floor. If passed by the Senate, the bill would then need to repeat the entire process in the House.
“We still have a little ways to go, Wednesday was the very first step in this,” said Whitaker. “I think something will be passed this session. Thus far we haven’t seen anyone with opposition to the need of the bill.”
Whitaker applauded Sen. Stephen Goldfinch, R-Murrells Inlet, for his involvement on getting the legislation moving.
“Goldfinch reached out to CCA in the fourth quarter of last year with a desire to do something for redfish,” said Whitaker. “He’s a true angler and we enjoy a good working relationship with him. He’s always open to listening to anglers concerns.”
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