Scientists, fisheries regulators, conservation groups and anglers across the Southeast seem to be gearing up for a prolonged battle over Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).
The South Atlantic Fisheries Management Council (SAFMC), which oversees offshore fishing from North Carolina south to Key West, meets in Charleston next week. The council, which includes a mix of fisheries managers, scientists and anglers, will consider a plan calling for a dramatic expansion of MPAs throughout the Southeast.
How hot could things get? Consider this: Some of the experts involved in the MPA planning process are lobbying for a ban on all types of fishing — including trolling — at some of the region’s hottest offshore spots. Popular areas identified in a series of reports on the matter include the Georgetown Hole (called Devil’s Hole in agenda briefings) and Edisto Banks off South Carolina. The famed Big Rock area off North Carolina was also identified as a possible MPA site.
MPAs can take many different forms. One type outlaws bottom fishing within its borders but allows anglers to troll for sport fish such as dolphin, wahoo and marlin.
Another type, the “no-take” version, bans all types of fishing. Some argue that this approach makes enforcement easier and provides a safe haven for multiple species of fish.
In all their forms, MPAs are touted as a way to provide sanctuary to breeding populations of fish and ultimately improve fishing outside of their borders.
Advocates of the more restrictive, “no-take” areas might face an uphill battle. In a vote earlier this year, SAFMC members decided that any new or expanded MPAs would not include a ban on offshore trolling, according to Gregg Waugh, SAFMC deputy executive director.
It’s widely expected that during next week’s meeting, environmental groups will lobby to keep “no-take” alternatives alive.
Though recommendations to forbid trolling as well as bottom-fishing are a new development, MPAs themselves are not. In an effort to combat overfishing of snapper-grouper species, the federal government in 2009 established eight MPAs covering more than 500 square miles off the Southeast. All of those areas are Type II MPAs, which means bottom fishing is banned but trolling is allowed.
A final decision on which MPAs to establish or change — if any — is not expected at the upcoming meeting, scheduled for Sept. 16-20 at the Charleston Marriott Hotel on Lockwood Boulevard. In fact, any plan to add new MPAs or expand or otherwise change existing areas would most likely involve months of debate and public hearings.
To learn more about the issue, and to see a detailed agenda and briefing materials, go to SAFMC.net.
Rumors are swirling that tarpon have finally arrived in full force. One of my buds reported red-hot fishing south of Charleston last week, and anglers to the north are gearing up for this weekend’s Lowcountry Tarpon Tournament.
Capt. Steve Roff of Barrier Island Guide Service (843-446-7337), who fishes mostly north of Charleston near Winyah and Bulls bays, confirms that the bite is on. Roff expects the action to peak in mid-September, when the mullet run starts. “Last year it started for us on the second day of the Lowcountry Tarpon Tournament. I think it was Sept. 14.
“Look for big baits around sand bars and points,” Roff advised. “We catch 80 percent of our tarpon in less than 10 feet of water. ... Learn how the big baits move in your area and you’ll be around the tarpon.
The captain’s meeting for the tournament will start at 5 p.m. on Sept. 12 at Limpin’ Jane’s in Georgetown. Competition begins at 6 a.m. Sept. 13 and runs through 3 p.m. Sept. 14. Entry is $400 per boat.
Fishing is restricted to the waters of Charleston and Georgetown counties.
The tournament is strictly catch-and-release; the winning boat will be determined by the highest total number of tarpon deemed caught and released in accordance with the rules. For details and complete rules, go to lowcountrytarpon.com.
A reception and awards banquet starts at 5 p.m. Sept. 14 at Lands End restaurant in Georgetown. There will be a Q&A session with local tarpon guides and a presentation on tarpon research. The event is open to the public.