Local fishermen take fight against catch limits to Charleston

Charter fishing boat owners and commercial fishermen on the Grand Strand say federal catch limits on black sea bass and other popular species are forcing them out of business.

Grand Strand fishermen are taking their fight against a catch limits to North Charleston Wednesday.

About 40 men left Wednesday morning to attend one of several public hearings held by the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council.

Charter fishing boat owners and commercial fishermen say that bag limits on black sea bass, scheduled to begin next month and continue until June first, will cripple their earnings.

"That's our primary fish that we fish for during that time of year," said Keith Logan, owner of Feedin' Frenzy Charters of Little River.

Logan says he doesn't believe the Fishery Council's count of black bass or other species are accurate or that catch limits are needed to prevent overfishing of those species.

"I've seen some of the best fishing we've seen in the last couple years, since I've been fishing over 30 years in this area," Logan says.

Charter fisherman Fred Rourk of Pawleys Island serves on the South Carolina Recreational Fishing Alliance . He's among those fighting the catch limits, though he doesn't fish for black sea bass or the other offshore species. Rourk says the bag limits are just the beginning of an effort by animal rights activists to end fishing entirely.

"You're seeing incremental pieces, the snapper, the black bass and then it's going to be the dolphins and the wahoo and the king mackerel and the Spanish, right on down to the red fish and the trout and the flounder that I catch."

The limits on black sea bass are part of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Act hat went into effect several years ago and fishermen say there's not much they can do to stop it now. But they hope to prevent proposed limits on other popular species, like wahoo, cobia and mahi.

The manager of a fishing supply outlet says fishermen are holding back on purchasing equipment and supplies for the season ahead, because they're not sure what the future holds.

"Until we have some hard and fast answers on what's really going to happen, I think there's a lot of people up in the air about the 2011 fishing season," said Chris Burrows of West Marine in North Myrtle Beach.

That uncertainty led the founder of a popular local fishing tournament to cancel it this year. Ron McManus, who started the Dixie Chicken Fishing Funament 12 years ago as a fundraiser for an artificial reef foundation, says the proposed catch limits make the competition not worth putting on this year.

"This year just seems to be a time we better take back a step and look to see where we are," McManus said.

Keith Logan says federal fishery regulators aren't taking into account how the proposed limits will impact coastal fishermen and related industries, like marinas and boat builders.

"Especially along the coastal areas, it's really going to put a hurt on the economy for everybody," Logan says.

Following Wednesday's meeting in North Charleston, the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council plans to meet in Pooler, GA on Thursday. Three more hearings are being held in Florida next week in Jacksonville, Cocoa Beach and Key Largo.