By Matt Ruby
Published on January 21, 2012 in The Sun (Myrtle Beach)
In December, the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council decided to reduce the number of commercial black sea bass trap fishermen through a black sea bass endorsement program. This program will cut the number of black sea bass trap fishermen in South Carolina by 80 percent, which will deal a critical blow to South Carolina's already struggling commercial fishing industry.
In less than a year, fishermen will be required to have a federally issued black sea bass "endorsement" in order to trap black sea bass. To qualify, fishermen must have harvested a lot of black sea bass over many years. This is especially bad news for South Carolina's dual commercial and charter boat permit holders who make their living by participating in multiple commercial fisheries and leading charter fishing trips. A recent analysis of the black sea bass endorsement program by Cap Log Group shows the impacts of this program on different towns and counties in South Carolina. According to Cap Log Group, of 36 commercial black sea bass trap fishermen in South Carolina, only three fishermen in Georgetown and four fishermen in Little River will qualify for black sea bass endorsements. This eliminates all black sea bass trap fishermen in the remaining commercial fishing communities in South Carolina, including Charleston, McClellanville and Murrells Inlet.
In voting for this program, the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council was trying to decrease the pressure on the black sea bass population while sustaining the resource and fishermen. This is a goal we agree with. But there are better ways to achieve this than a program that eliminates nearly half of an industry.
The South Atlantic Fishermen's Association is proposing a voluntary individual fishing quota (IFQ) program, which we think is a far better way to improve the black sea bass fishery. A voluntary IFQ program allocates the privilege to harvest a portion of the total commercial quota to individual fishermen based on their historical catches. Unlike the endorsement program, a voluntary IFQ has no eligibility requirement or minimum harvest requirements that eliminate fishermen. A voluntary IFQ will give participating fishermen the ability to fish year-round and run more stable businesses. A voluntary IFQ program also meets the council's goal by limiting the catch of black sea bass rather than by limiting the number of fishermen. IFQ programs work, and we'd like to try a voluntary IFQ program here.