Bluffton Packet

I'm 'mad as hell' and, believe me, you should be, too

I hope many of you read my column last week concerning the dire predicament for the pearl in our Lowcountry oyster, the Waddell Mariculture Center.

To quickly recap: I begged all of you to give to the nonprofit "Waddell Fund," managed by the Community Foundation of the Lowcountry, so that this priceless institution will not only survive but prosper. With funding cuts that never seem to end, this amazing group needs us all to pitch in to preserve the research its dedicated professionals do day in and day out. Their work is critical for those of us who care about the health of our waters and our fisheries.

This week I had planned to write about another incredibly stupid set of regulations that just came out but when I sat down to write, I received an e-mail that completely blew me away. Just when it seemed things couldn't get worse for Waddell, a bill was introduced in Columbia that might be the nail in its coffin if passed.

With a 20 percent budget cut already in the works, the sponsors of that bill (Senate Bill S407) want to add an additional 10 percent cut from, of all things, the revenue from our fishing licenses. The plan is to use our fishing money to fund welfare programs, prisons and education (I thought the lottery was there for that).

So that you all understand, the money from our fishing licenses is what wholly funds the Waddell Mariculture Center. Already the laughingstock of the country, South Carolina's politicians continue to hold their coveted torch of ignorance with their lack of vision.

Remember the movie "Network" with that famous line: "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore?" Well, that is how I feel right now. Most of the time I am a very calm person but, as of late, the Waddell issue plus the new fishing regulations have got me on overload.

What fishing regulations you ask? As of this week, you no longer can catch or keep black sea bass. And that's not all. The catch limit on dolphin (mahi-mahi) is going to be reduced, plus you will only be able to keep two wahoo a boat should new regulations go through. These proposed changes are federal but, in my opinion, there is no supporting science to warrant these measures.

Already we can't catch or keep any groupers, red snapper or vermillion snapper -- and now they add black sea bass to that list. Maybe you have never done any bottom fishing offshore in this area, but one thing there is no shortage of is black sea bass.

Unlike Florida, where you can be fishing in deep water in a matter of minutes from leaving the shore, up here we have to run 30 to 60 miles to offshore fish. On average, I might see two or three boats any time I am offshore -- unlike in Florida, where that number is in the hundreds. So I propose a zone system that takes into account the pressure one area puts on fish versus another area, where the pressure is nonexistent. Recreational fishermen here have little impact on our offshore fish stocks. The reasons are so obvious: It's expensive to go that far; the limits are already very strict; and most of the fishermen I know are very catch-and-release oriented.

So who is to blame for overfishing? Without a doubt it is the commercial fisherman and long liners.

Like cry babies, the commercial fisherman spend lots of money pleading their cause through strong lobbying in Washington. They take and take and just keep taking. On the flip side, recreational fishermen are the ones who build the artificial reefs and support so many aspects of keeping our fisheries healthy through licensing, tackle sales and conservation groups.

The time has come for our voices to be heard and only through direct involvement by each and every one of you will that happen.

First and foremost, call your government representatives regarding funding for the Waddell Mariculture Center. Call Rep. Bill Herbkersman at 803-734-3063 and Sen. Tom Davis at 803-212-6008. Davis is one of the sponsors of the bill to use our fishing and hunting license fees for other projects outside the Department of Natural Resources, Waddell and other conservation projects for which those funds were specifically designated.

Sportsmen, voice your displeasure today.