Imagine a vast area off the South Carolina coast that’s closed to fishing, stretching north from the Georgia border for nearly 150 miles to near McClellanville.
Now imagine the impacts that the closed area would have on recreational, commercial, and charter boat fishermen, and businesses such as hotels, restaurants, marinas, boat dealers and suppliers, and bait and tackle stores, that all depend on offshore fishermen–both from in and out of state—for nearly all of their income.
What you just imagined may very well come true if the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (SAFMC) approves closing a nearly 10,000 square mile area in the South Atlantic to fishing in an effort to protect red snapper, of which 3,500 square miles are off the South Carolina coast.
This despite the fact that the National Marine Fisheries Service has already imposed a total closure of the red snapper fishery and red snapper landings in South Carolina account for just 11 percent of the total landings in the South Atlantic region.
Clearly closing fishing areas off this state is not justified by the facts and would cause severe economic hardship to the state and its coastal counties, including the significant loss of jobs for South Carolinians at a time when job creation is badly needed.
Recreational and commercial saltwater fishing is vital to the coastal economy and employs thousands of state residents directly and indirectly.
According to a 2008 University of South Carolina study, coastal tourism had a total economic impact of over $7 billion, employed nearly 81,000 South Carolinians, and generated over $2 billion in salary and wages.
The same study found that commercial fishing had a total economic impact of nearly $34 million, employed nearly 700 South Carolinians, and generated nearly $13 million in salary and wages.
A 2006 American Sportfishing Association study found that saltwater fishing in South Carolina had a total economic impact of over $1 billion, employed nearly 12,000 South Carolinians, and generated over $333 million in salary and wages.
Beyond the enormous job and economic losses closing fishing areas would bring to the state’s coastal economy, it would also cause excessive fishing pressure in the remaining areas still open for fishing, causing localized depletion of fish, further seriously impacting fishermen, employment, and the local economy.
The SAFMC can work to ensure the red snapper fishery is sustainable. I think all fishermen share in that goal. But if closed areas are to be utilized as a management tool, they should be located where red snapper occur in significant numbers, not in an area where red snapper are a minor bycatch, such as off South Carolina.
Along with many other coastal businesses, fishermen, and groups such as the Recreational Fishing Alliance and the SC Marine Association, I support legislation–Senate Bill 1095 and House Bill 4497–introduced by state Senators Ray Cleary and Ronnie Cromer, and Rep. Thad Viers, that puts the General Assembly on record with the SAFMC as opposing any closed fishing areas off this state and requires that the state-controlled vote on the SAFMC be cast against any plan involving any such area closures.
I believe the legislature would be remiss if it does not assert its authority on a public policy issue of this magnitude. In fact I think our legislators are obligated when the economic stakes are this high to do what’s necessary to protect jobs and small businesses.
I urge our legislators to stand up for our jobs and our coastal economy by quickly passing this legislation before it’s too late.
Brown operates a charter boat business out of the Charleston area