Fishing limits plan could affect popular Georgetown Hole

The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council is meeting this week in Charleston to consider placing new fishing limits on a couple of fish species.

The big concern for Grand Strand fishermen is that part of the proposal would effectively close down deep water fishing in a popular spot off the Georgetown coast.

The council already prohibits fishing of warsaw grouper and speckled hind.

Now, the council will consider taking that a step further by prohibiting the by-catch of those species, which is the accidental catch of those fish when fishermen are targeting something else.

Conservationists with the Pew Charitable Trusts say the limits are badly needed, to prevent over-fishing.

"These two species are in dire need of protection. Speckled hind and warsaw grouper are at 5 and 6 percent of healthy population levels, respectively," said Leda Dunmire, who manages Southeast ocean conservation work for Pew.

But, the limits would mean deep water fishing would be banned in a number of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), including the Georgetown Hole, a 27-square-mile area that fishermen say is one of the best spots for fishing in the whole Carolinas.

"It has very good bottom habitat and all the species are there," said Phil Conklin, owner of Seven Seas Seafood Market in Murrells Inlet.

In all, the council will consider establishing 30 Marine Protected Areas, from the Carolinas to Florida.

Dunmire says surface fishing of species like dolphin would still be allowed in the Georgetown Hole and other MPAs.

A common complaint in the fishing industry is that the fishery management council bases its decisions on bad information, including inaccurate fish counts that come from paper log books.

"The data's not there and in order to have better science, you got to have better data," Conklin said.

Dunmire says the population numbers of those two species are based on the latest science. She adds, closing off deep water fishing in spots like the Georgetown Hole is a moderate approach that's best for everybody, fishermen included.

"This is about protecting fish so there will be more of them in the future for people to use the resource," Dunmire said.

The fishery management council will discuss the proposed protected areas this week, but will not make a decision. That could take months.