About 70 fishermen gathered Tuesday to consider possible limits on the number of cobia commercial and recreational anglers can catch.
The Hilton Head Island and Beaufort sportfishing clubs organized the meeting so the fishermen would be prepared to comment on restrictions the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council is considering to comply with a federal law designed to stop overfishing.
Currently, recreational fishermen are limited to two cobia per person per day, with a 33-inch length limit.
It's possible those rules won't need to change if a council committee agrees to adopt a new method developed by Gulf Coast scientists to track how many fish can be caught without overfishing, said Gregg Waugh, the council's deputy executive director.
Fishermen should know, however, that if the current limits remain and they land too many fish in a given year, they could have to compensate by catching far fewer the next, he said.
"The feeling is the existing regulations should be enough," Waugh told the group at Palmetto Electric's New River office. "It really gives you all the opportunity to have some very good input about how risky you want to be."
Hilton Head Island Sportfishing Club president Dave Harter said the majority of local fishermen want to take a slightly more conservative approach. He favors lowering the recreational limit to one cobia per person per day.
Even though keeping the current limits would probably benefit their businesses in the short term, the majority of local fishermen think the status quo is too liberal, he said.
"I don't think the guys are comfortable with that," Harter said.
The council is scheduled to conduct a series of public hearings -- including one in North Charleston on April 12 and another in Pooler, Ga., on April 13 -- before making its final decision in June.
The rules it adopts probably would be in effect for about two years before they are re-evaluated, Waugh said.