Beaufort County dealers ready to curb overfishing

Seafood dealers are on board with effort to better monitor and protect fish species.

info@islandpacket.comJanuary 14, 2014 

Part of what makes Beaufort County unique is its abundance of natural resources that keeps visitors coming back year after year. Those resources require careful management to ensure their preservation.

That's why we applaud the area's seafood dealers who say they stand ready to participate in a federal effort to better track fish species and safeguard against overfishing.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Marine Fisheries Service recently proposed a rule change, requiring the area's seafood dealers to report their purchases from fishermen every week instead of every two weeks. Seafood caught in eight federally regulated fisheries in the Gulf Coast and Atlantic would be more carefully tracked, giving a more complete snapshot of the health of snapper, grouper, red drum, wahoo and South Atlantic rock shrimp.

The change is needed, according to the agency, because catch limits are sometimes being exceeded, and stocks are not getting adequate time to reproduce and build back up.

Everyone suffers as a result -- the species, the fishermen who experience smaller catches and the local economy because of a decrease in the local seafood supply.

The rule change will help, according to the agency, by ensuring more timely updates are made and complete assessments are given about the size and health of the fisheries. As a result, the agency can more quickly determine and respond when fisheries reach their annual catch limits and are in danger of being overfished.

Experience tells us that monitoring is key. Just last year, for example, Beaufort County shrimpers reported smaller catches partly because of black-gill disease, likely caused by a microscopic parasitic organism. While the situation is still being studied and no solution has been figured out yet, everyone agrees that the sooner problems like this are detected and reported, the sooner a remedy can be found.

The proposed change promises more of that for several federally managed species.

But it comes at a price. Seafood dealers will have to spend more time on the dock, cataloguing their purchases and filling out paperwork.

But they say it's the right thing to do -- after all, the health of fish species is vital to their livelihood.

"They're not trying to give us more paperwork, but keep better track of numbers," said Tonya Hudson-Desalve, owner of Benny Hudson Seafood on Hilton Head Island.

The public comment period on the rule change is open until Feb. 3. We hope it is approved.

More monitoring and assessing ensures we're doing all that we can to protect stocks and preserve a precious part of Lowcountry life.

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