Outdoors: Fisherman expected to voice opinions at upcoming hearing

The list of species that fishermen in the South Atlantic cannot target over the winter and early spring began growing in July 2009 when a suite of management measures contained in Amendment 16 to the Fishery Management Plan for the Snapper-Grouper Fishery of the South Atlantic Region went into effect.

Vermilion snapper (known locally as beeliners) are closed annually to recreational anglers from November through March and several shallow-water species of grouper are off-limits annually from January through April. Also, red snapper, while not considered a staple species locally, are closed year-round and indefinitely.

But perhaps the final straw for local anglers began earlier this year when the very popular black sea bass fishery was shut down on Feb. 12 through May 31 when the species annual quota was deemed to have been caught. Fishing for the species was re-opened for recreational anglers on June 1 at the beginning of the calendar fishing year with a reduced daily bag limit from 15 fish per day to five. But, even with the reduced bag limit, the annual quota was once again deemed to have been caught, closing the fishery again on Oct. 17 and it will not re-open until June 1, 2012.

The result? Already – just 5 ½ months into the fishing year – fishermen cannot keep what are the two staple bottom fishing species – black sea bass and vermilion snapper, and then the shallow-water grouper species including gag and red grouper join the list of closures on Jan. 1, 2012.

After the ball drops at midnight on Dec. 31, ringing in 2012, recreational fishermen are left with virtually no reason to leave the dock for five months to pursue the only species available during that stretch in the Atlantic Ocean – bottom fish.

Capt. Danny Juel of Fish Screamer Charters in Little River is a third generation fisherman with over 30 years experience on local waters. Juel’s thoughts on the issue prevail among local fishermen, and the black sea bass closure is the one that really sticks in his craw.

“I’ve already lost three charters because of (the black sea bass) closure,” said Juel. “If there was a shortage of sea bass, I’d see it, but you cannot actually fish for other species because of black sea bass being aggressive and a nuisance now. People are going to quit going on charters – when they ask what can you keep and you tell them, they’re just not going to go.”

With such a long stretch with no regular means of income, Juel is obviously concerned about what the future holds.

“We’re gonna be done,” said Juel, volunteering to speak for other fishermen. “The total closures are ridiculous. If they want to do something, up the size limit, but let us keep some fish, at least let us work. That’s all we’ve ever done all our lives. We don’t’ know anything else.

“I’ve got $175,000 worth of boats tied at the dock because I can’t do anything with them but all the other bills including dock and rent keep coming but you have no way to make income to pay them.”

Juel points out that the absence of bottom fishing customers during the winter and early spring months will effect more than the fishermen – the entire local economy will feel the impact of the missed fishing trips.

“The gas station and restaurant owners, the hotels, if you’ve got a business and you’re around the area, or even inland on the way to the beach, you’re going to feel it,” said Juel. “You’re looking at June 1 until anybody can keep black sea bass. That’s a long time. That’s the fish people like – it’s one of the best eating fish out there.

“It’s out of control. You’re talking about a lot of people being affected. A lot of people come here to fish and when they can’t keep anything they’re going to do something else. They’re going to quit fishing, period. That leaves a lot of people out of jobs.”

While Juel will attend the public hearing, he feels it will be in vain.

“I’ve driven to meetings from Cape Hatteras to Key West and I’ve never left any with an encouraging feeling,” said Juel. “We’re all discouraged.’’

Following are some of the other public hearings:

• Savannah, Ga., Monday, 4-7 p.m., Hampton Inn Savannah/Midtown, 912-721-3700.

• Charleston, Tuesday, 5:30-7:30 p.m., Charleston Marriott Hotel, 843-723-3000

• Raleigh, N.C., Dec. 6, 5:30 p.m., Holiday Inn Brownstone, 919-828-0811. Hearing will be held in conjunction with the December 5-9, SAFMC meeting.

Notes

•  N.C. Trout | Changes have been made to the limits for spotted seatrout in North Carolina waters for both recreational and commercial fishermen.

The North Carolina Marine Fisheries Commission approved at a meeting last week lowering the recreational bag limit per person from six fish per day to four and raising the minimum size limit from 12 to 14 inches. North Carolina commercial fishermen are now limited to 75 fish per trip, whereas there previously was no limit. The minimum size for commercial fishermen was also raised to 14 inches. The changes go into effect immediately.

The commission also approved further future restrictions that could go into effect in Feb., 2014, implementing a three-fish per person recreational bag limit for the species and a Dec. 15-Jan. 31 recreational closure plus a 25-fish commercial trip limit. Changes in these potential future regulations could be made if new data shows changes are necessary.

The commission sent the 2014 changes to the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources Secretary and Joint Legislative Commission on Governmental Operations for final approval.

•  Hooks For Hearts | The 6th annual Hooks For Hearts Charity Trout Tourney will be held Nov. 19 in Murrells Inlet and benefits the American Heart Association and the Winston Perry Reef Foundation. The captains meeting will be held Nov. 18, 6 p.m. at Dead Dog Saloon in Murrells Inlet. Entry fee is $85 per boat and $25 for the kayak division.

The awards ceremony is set for Nov. 19, 6 p.m., at Dead Dog Saloon with raffles and a 50/50 drawing open to the public.

The tournament features a $1,000 cash first-place prize. For more information, call Capt. Englis Glover at 843-655-5459 or e-mail englis1970@yahoo.com.

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