New Marine Protected Areas offshore would be limited to bottom fishing, council decides

Lowcountry offshore sports anglers who were given a break by federal regulators earlier this week ended up with a bigger one Friday.

Surface fishing won’t be banned if any fishing grounds are added to the Marine Protected Areas, ocean preserves where some types of fishing aren’t allowed.

The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council approved its committee recommendation to ask for more information before deciding whether to add to the MPAs. But it inserted language specifying that in any area under consideration, only bottom fishing for snapper-grouper species would be banned — not trolling, or surface fishing, according to Kim Iverson, of the council.

“The same as the current MPAs,” she said.

The council is considering adding four new sites and realigning some of the current eight MPAs to put more of the Continental Shelf off limits to bottom fishing for popular dinner-plate snapper and grouper catches. If approved, the recommendation would expand the preserves from 785 square miles to 1,093 square miles, including sought-after spots such as the Georgetown Hole and more of the Edisto Bank off Charleston.

Those also are the spots that draw charter boat and high-dollar tournament fishing, such as the Governor’s Cup.

Among the earliest recommendations brought to the council included a ban on all types of fishing in the areas. Anglers were concerned because the language of the recommendations under consideration didn’t rule that out.

Tourism and sports anglers are a huge component of the coastal fishing business, which brings an estimated $600 million per year to the South Carolina coast.

Taking away that fishing “would be devastating to our economy,” said Steve Leasure, a Charleston-based sports fisherman who competes in the Governor’s Cup. “I don’t think people realize the economic impact he fisheries have on the coast.”

Reach Bo Petersen at 937-5744, @bopete on twitter or Bo Petersen Reporting on Facebook.

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