South Carolina Fish Conservation

As a father, full-time charter boat captain, lifelong fisherman, biologist and outdoors enthusiasts this is a topic that I truly hold near and dear to my heart. I have been kicking around the idea of writing this article for a number of years but have been putting it off in hopes that things would come around and start getting better…well I am finally to the conclusion that the state of our local fisheries have hit an all-time low and it is becoming more clear that things wont be getting better anytime soon. From talking to other guides and captains from my area and other areas I know that multiple fisheries up and down the East Coast of the United States have been declining for years and I really have to wonder why? Am I saying that there are no fish left? No, there are still lots of fish in the sea and we still have many really good days on the water. What I am concerned about is where our fisheries are today compared to where they were 5, 10 and 20 years ago and more importantly where they will be 5, 10 and 20 years from now. Please note that my point of view comes from a lifelong career as a full time fishing guide but my views are neutral and come only from the desire to see healthy fisheries. Moreover, because I currently guide out of the Beaufort and Hilton Head, SC area many of my examples will come from these local fisheries.

The good old days

I can remember as a kid growing up in Daytona Beach, FL going out fishing with my dad off of the docks, piers, jetties and surf. We almost always caught good numbers of fish and quite frankly we had little clue as to what we were doing. Years later as a deckhand on offshore charter boats in the Florida Keys we always caught fish and lots of them but the Keys are a different animal. From the Keys I ended up on the lower coast of South Carolina and though I have spent quite a bit of time on the offshore waters I have now become rather content to stay on the inshore and backwaters. When I relocated up here 10 years ago the fishing was off the chain! We had one of the best inshore cobia fisheries on the East Coast plus it was quite common to have days catching 30+ reds, 50+ specks, flounder, tarpon, bull reds plus blues and mackerel until your arms hurt. Am I gonna say that everyday was an easy day or that we had huge days on every trip?…NO. But depending on the time of year and conditions many days were like that. This lasted for the first 5 years whereas over the past 5 years we have seen a steady decline to the point where days that were once considered a good day of fishing are now a great day of fishing. So what’s causing this decline and where do we go from here?

Its hard to say but there are number of factors that are contributing to our declining fisheries and over the next few months we will be taking a look at some examples so stay tuned and follow along as I will be posting each month in this 10 part Fish Conservation Series.