This is what we're calling 'sustainable fishing'?

cdad@hiltonheadisland.netMay 20, 2014 

A trio of cobia fills up a wheelbarrow.

COURTESY OF COLLINS DOUGHTIE

It appears I really offended a few charter captains who thought I was picking on them personally in a column I wrote a few weeks ago about cobia. I even got a midnight call from one guy that included the best string of cuss words I've heard in some time. Bravo! Well done.

In that column, I recounted disagreements I had with a couple charter captains a few years back when Port Royal Sound was full of cobia. I felt they should release more fish, rather than sell them to restaurants, so the cobia populations in the sound wouldn't plummet.

This was not the first time I had written about the issue of taking more cobia than you need for a meal or two. Looking back through my archives, I have addressed this same subject for the past four years, usually around the time cobia start arriving.

The main point in the most recent column was to educate anglers about catch-and-release practices and the sustainability of our cobia populations. I was hoping to get folks out in Port Royal Sound on May 10 to help catch male and female cobia for breeding at the Waddell Mariculture Center. Though a lot of people participated that weekend, the wind was howling around 30 knots, so the water was all mucked up and no cobia were caught for Waddell.

I want to answer a few of the things I heard from the charter captains who got so riled up. One captain posted on my Facebook page that he was the first person to help Waddell capture cobia for brood stock. Though it may not have done any good, I wrote to him and told him he and I had been friends for a long time and I wasn't pointing a finger at him in any way, shape or form. He had always been straight-up in my book. Truth be told, most of the charter captains I know are great guys and great sportsmen.

Another captain brought up, "What about all the recreational anglers that fish for cobia in Port Royal Sound?" It looks like a city in Port Royal Sound during cobia season, especially on the weekends. Luckily the laws have changed so you can no longer sell cobia caught inshore in places like Port Royal Sound -- only fish caught offshore can be sold and only if you have the proper license. There is no comparison between someone who fishes every day for cobia and the average weekend warrior who is out there once a week or once a month. Recreational fishermen do get lucky and catch cobia, but there are tricks of the trade that only experience teaches, which makes people like myself able to catch cobia -- and lots of them -- pretty much at will.

Personally, I think, the current limit of two cobia per person per day is nuts, especially when everybody and their brother is fishing for them right when the fish are getting ready to spawn. But as it is with so many fisheries I've watched crash during my lifetime, the federal government that seems to wait until the last second before implementing regulations to bring back the species. It happened with redfish, snapper, bluefin tuna and countless others. What amazes me is history isn't proving to be a very good teacher at all. Every new generation, it seems, has to learn the hard way.

Lastly, one charter captain was quick to point out how much they do for cobia data by donating carcasses for DNA sampling. He was absolutely right; and this helps biologists monitor the fishery. Once again, the majority of the charter captains are solid sportsmen, but when a few of their counterparts go on killing sprees to make a few bucks, I don't get it at all. This is their livelihood being threatened. They make pretty good money taking folks fishing so why don't they say something to those who have no regard for sustainability?

It simply blows my mind.

A few recreational fishermen are equally driven by greed. Less than a week after my column caused a stir, in one day I got 36 calls and emails from friends and people I had never even met. Why? Because on that one day, three boats (two charter, one recreational) went out to our near-shore reefs and killed a total of 32 cobia between the three. There is little doubt in my mind that all those fish are being served in restaurants as we speak. I am not whistle-blowing, just stating the facts.

If this what they call sustainable fishing, God help us all.

God does not subtract from the allotted span of a man's life the hours spent in fishing. Columnist Collins Doughtie, a graphic designer by trade and fishing guide by choice, sure hopes that's true.

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