Originally created 09/08/06

Fishermen, conservationists clash over fish refuges



CHARLESTON, S.C. - A plan to create fish refuges off the South Carolina coast sparked a clash between fishermen and conservationists.

More than 30 fishermen and environmentalists attended a public hearing Tuesday to discuss the plan by the National Marine Fisheries Service.

The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council proposal would ban fishing for snapper and grouper, in effect bottom-fishing, along the three reefs offshore. The reefs are as large as 50 square miles, as deep as 600 feet and 50 miles out to sea.

Snapper and grouper are popular seafood and among the most heavily fished species in the Southeast.

The three sites off the South Carolina coast are among eight proposed in the Southeast. The council is expected to vote on establishing the refuges in December and the regulation could become law by 2008.

"The South Atlantic council ploy is to basically put the fisherman out of business. And it's working," said commercial fisherman Harold Olsen.

Protected areas don't work and "I haven't seen any studies that they work. We just don't know with these deep water species, and y'all have admitted that," added recreational fisherman Marcus Harold of Mount Pleasant.

But Nancy Vinson of the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League favored creating the refuges.

"There's lots of ocean out there and these are three relatively small sites that may help preserve these fish being overfished," she said.

While conservationists say fish populations are in trouble, some fishermen say there needs to be more research.

"Over the years, we've tried every single other traditional fishing management tool and none of those has protected the snapper-grouper species," said Kerry O'Malley, a council biologist.