Two of the most disappointing announcements made this year by the feds, relative to recreational fishing in South Atlantic waters, were the sudden ban on cobia harvesting made in January, and the later decision not to repeat last year’s limited harvesting of red snapper.
When it was announced that no recreational cobia harvesting would be allowed in federal waters from the Georgia-Florida line to New York throughout 2017, it was a particularly restrictive measure in Georgia and South Carolina. In Georgia, the majority of cobia are caught beyond state waters, and in South Carolina, the state salt water regulations are generally in line with those made by the feds.
While it is a major setback for recreational anglers in both states, for many who make their living as professional guides or provide guide services, it is a costly ban. Revenue lost from trips having to be cancelled due to the ban and expensive upgrades in equipment to maintain profitability are just a couple of the complaints. Some who have invested in new boats and equipment have been forced to make major adjustments just to stay afloat.
But causing the most concern, particular among those providing guide service, is the way the feds, in particular NOAA Fisheries, have determined the need for the closure. The agency said the estimated recreational harvest numbers for 2015 and 2016 were exceeded, therefore the closure is required by law to curb the problem. Those estimated harvest numbers also included cobia taken within state waters. These estimates are now being questioned by many, especially for landings off North Carolina and Virginia.
The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (SAFMC) has asked NOAA Fisheries to recalculate the estimates.
As for red snapper, several readers have expressed disappointment that no limited harvest will be allowed this year.
Again, it is the decision of NOAA Fisheries. The main reason given is that limited harvesting in the South Atlantic during 2017 is not being allowed because the agency is concerned that not enough of the red snapper being caught and released are surviving.
Again according to a mid-June news report, the SAFMC notes that NOAA Fisheries estimates that 28 percent of red snapper caught and released die primarily due to barotrauma — more simply put, the damage caused by the bodily pressure change when taken from deep to shallow water.
SAFMC also reports there is a growing movement to incorporate more protective devices when releasing red snapper and other species, to protect them from predatory species as they are returned to their natural depths in hopes of improving the survival rate.
I’m no fishery biologist or even pretend to be, but to me the odds are minimal at best of any species surviving the trauma that occurs when caught in deep water, pulled to the surface and out of its normal range, often causing its swim bladder to balloon, then deflating it by puncture it in hopes it makes it back to its normal range.
Certainly a protective device will help during the descent, but once back in its normal range, the fish is still weak and traumatized. Not many will make it.
It is very difficult for many anglers to understand the reasoning behind restrictive regulations such as those now banning red snapper harvesting, particularly when local reports indicate many are now being caught and released in various offshore areas such as those along the Georgia coast. The same is true for any regulated species.
Knowing when one is caught and released that its chances of survival are almost nil is disturbing because that suggests wanton waste.
What is coming in the way of regulations in 2018 remains a guess. More may be known when the Council meets again in September, this time in Charleston, S.C.
No one wants to see any fishery depleted or endangered by overfishing or whatever, and it is NOAA Fisheries’ and its regional councils’ job to make certain it doesn’t happen.
I suggest that if more simplistic and explanatory information regarding how the regulatory decisions are derived, executed and data proved would be made available, they would be better understood and less questioned.
On the fishing front
Between spring tides, stormy weather and muddy waters, fishing reports continue to be on the skimpy sides. The current spotlight now is on the offshore scene.
A lot of action is being reported around the artificial reef and, in particular, the more offshore live bottom areas such as the Snapper Banks.
A variety of bottom fishing action, including grouper, are being taken along with some sizeable red snapper caught and released.
Our individual emails and text reports this week are mostly about inshore action, both salt and fresh.
Both Marvin Metzger at Coffee Bluff Marina (912-231-3628) for the Ossabaw Sound area and Jay Cranford (478-256-3422 and www.coastalgafishing.com) for the Sapelo Sound area, gave brief reports of slow action. Metzger told of some tripletail and redfish action, Cranford said winds were a problem but there was some action where clear water could be found. He did say flounder action was good in some areas.
Capt. Ray Crawley (Action Charters (912-429-3433) told of putting a trio of Gulfstream engineers — Vince Blumberg, Jason Grantham and Jeff Smith — into some exciting redfish action last week. The trio caught and released several in the 30-inch range and more ranging from 22 to 27 inches. They also got into both blacktip and sandbar sharks.
On the freshwater scene, there were two reports of largemouth bass being taken from ponds.
The first came from Maryanne and Peter Westley, who live at The Landings on Skidway Island. Grandson Ash Meckel, 13, of Austin, Texas, while this visiting with them last week, was fishing one of the impoundments on the island when he landed one estimated to have weighed 7 to 8 pounds.
Another report came from Dr. Keith Cobb, who told of wife Amy fishing a pond on their plantation in Oak Hill, landing one weighing 9 pounds – her largest ever.
‘Fishin’ for Jamie
Coming up next week, the annual “Fishin for Jamie” fundraiser that now has become a major annual event for the Savannah area.
Actually the event has become more than just a fishing tournament, now covering three days – this year set for July 14-16 – and since its inception in 2007, headquartered out of Hogan’s Marina on Wilmington Island.
Chris Caldwell who heads up the event, tells us the major emphasis will be on fishing with both inshore (two days) and offshore (one day) contests planned.
The event again will have cornhole tournaments for the fifth consecutive year and its second annual poker run. There is no golf tournament this year.
The schedule calls for registration on July 14, commencing at 5 p.m., followed by a captain’s meeting at 7 p.m.
On July 15, both the first day of the inshore tournament will be held along with the offshore event, which this year will be a bottom fishing format rather than a kingfish tournament.
The inshore event will be a five-fish, aggregate weight format consisting of redfish, trout, flounder, sheepshead and whiting with a limit of one legal redfish and one sheepshead, maximum weight, 5 pounds.
According to Caldwell, the bottom fishing event will also be an aggregate weight contest with a maximum of 10 fish. Species allowed will be black sea bass, vermillion snapper, triggerfish and grouper.
The entry fee for the two-day inshore tournament is $35 for those 13 years of age or older and $15 for those age 12 and under. For the offshore bottom tournament, the fee is $250 per boat.
Full details on all events can be obtained from flyers available at most marinas and sporting goods locations, or by contacting Chris Caldwell (912-667-4861), Jay Wainwright (912-398-3395); Will Curry (912-547-0458) or Hogan’s Marina (912-897-3474).
The tournament, now in its 11th year, is being held in memory of Jamie Fulcher, who battled melanoma cancer for three years until his death in 2007. Last year, “Fishin for Jamie Inc.” donated $27,000 to the Nancy N. and J.C. Lewis Cancer and Research Pavilion, and since first held, it has donated $137,000 toward melanoma cancer research and clinical trials.
John Burke can be reached at 912-655-8505, or by email at email@example.com.