Beaufort County seafood dealers may have to do more paperwork in 2014 due to proposed changes in federal reporting requirements.
The biggest change would require dealers to report their purchases from fishermen every week instead of every two weeks.
While not excited by more red tape, Beaufort County dealers have been largely receptive to the proposed changes, which could help the fish that provide their livelihood.
Such a change would provide more complete and timely purchase information, which in turn would give dealers more accurate assessments of the size and health of certain fisheries. It also helps ensure that species are not being overfished, said Tonya Hudson-Desalve, owner of Benny Hudson Seafood on Hilton Head Island.
"They're not trying to give us more paperwork, but keep better track of numbers," Hudson-Desalve said. "They're trying to help us by better documenting what's going on in the industry. ... It's more paperwork and time on the dock, but it's not a problem."
Craig Reaves, owner of Sea Eagle Market in Beaufort, agreed. He said the change would have little effect on most area seafood dealers, including him, because they primarily buy and sell shrimp, crab and oysters harvested in local, not federal, waters.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Marine Fisheries Service issued a bulletin Thursday about the proposed rule changes, which would affect seafood caught in eight federally regulated fisheries in the Gulf Coast and Atlantic. The fisheries include snapper, grouper, red drum, wahoo and South Atlantic rock shrimp.
Under the proposed change, dealers who fail to report or who file late reports would be ineligible to buy federally managed species from fishermen.
The rules should make it easier for the agency to gauge when commercial fisheries are projected to reach annual catch limits, said Jack McGovern, biologist with NOAA Fisheries Southeast Region.
"Exceeding catch limits affects the ability of stocks to rebuild," McGovern said.
"The feedback has been mostly positive," he added. "Most folks are on line because this allows us to monitor fisheries more efficiently and reduce overfishing."
Not everyone, though, sees a benefit in increased reporting.
"Will it give them more information faster? Yes. Will it make a real difference? No," said S.C. Seafood Alliance director Frank Blum. "What it will do is make fishermen work harder. I do not think it's going to help them that much. We're making such good progress in stock recovery, I can't image how one week will really make a difference."
However, if the federal government could keep fisheries open a little longer because of better reporting, "then that would be a plus for fishermen, instead of taking a guess of what's being caught because of lack of or late reporting," Blum said.
The agency, a division of the U.S. Department of Commerce, is accepting public comment on the rule changes until Feb. 3. The requirements would take effect four months after the final rule is adopted, probably sometime this summer, McGovern said.
Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/IPBG_Tom.