CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Fishing is one of the Lowcountry’s signature activities. It is a hobby to some, and a full-time job to others.
Many local fishermen enjoy off-shore fishing, but more deep-water fish are being released and dying than are being kept by fishermen.
The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council is a federal agency in charge of protecting fisheries in the Southeast, and on Friday they voted to require people fishing in federal waters off South Atlantic States like South Carolina, to have a tool called a descending device on board with them.
Mel Bell is the director of the Office of Fisheries Management for the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (DNR), and also serves as a council member for the fishery management council.
He says there are certain requirements that allow what fishermen can and cannot catch. Depending on the season, fishermen will have to throw some fish back into the water.
“Every fish that you bring up, let’s say it’s undersized or it’s out of season and you can’t retain it, you need to put it back in the water,” said Bell. “You don’t want to put it back in the water and have it float behind the boat or have sharks’ prey on the fish.”
Right now, certain species of deep-dwelling fish experience barotrauma, an injury associated with pressure changes, when caught. Many of them end up dying which is why Bell says they moved forward with this requirement.
Leda Cunningham is a manager for The Pew Charitable Trusts’ ocean conservation work in the Southeast, and says this is good news for fishing in US South Atlantic Waters.
“We are pleased the South Atlantic Council is addressing a serious problem that frustrates fishermen and is harming some of our important fish populations. Millions of fish die needlessly during catch and release. Saving many of them by using an inexpensive, easy-to-use device means we are helping our ocean ecosystems while also boosting future fishing opportunities,” said Cunningham.
Some local fishermen say they have used these devices in the past that seem beneficial, although they may not agree with all the council’s practices.
“I would say for the most part it’s certainly better than just throwing the fish back on the top, especially with a bloated swim bladder,” said Trey Brown, a local off-shore fishermen.
Capt. Robert Olsen, on the other hand, doesn’t think this would be beneficial to bigger fish that need to be released.
“I think a better alternative for the bigger fish would be if we could purchase a tag that would allow people to harvest that fish rather than knowing that we are going to release it knowing it’s probably not going to survive,” said Olsen.
This decision is pending federal approval.