SC enacts new rules for saltwater fishing

For The Sun NewsJune 27, 2013 

— Several new rules for saltwater fishing in the Palmetto State have come out of this year’s legislative session.

Five laws affecting a variety of issues have either already gone into effect after being signed by Gov. Nikki Haley or will go into effect within the next year.

Coastal Conservation Association South Carolina was heavily involved in pushing for the various legislation, and CCA SC Executive Director Scott Whitaker is impressed.

“These were CCA’s priorities,” said Whitaker. “You run five bills through the General Assembly in one session – that’s a lot of monitoring and actively engaging with both sides and the full body [of the legislature]. This was probably the biggest workload since the [Comprehensive Finfish Management Plan] in 2006 in my 14 years with CCA.”

Following are the details of the five new laws:

•  Saltwater Fishing License: South Carolina’s fishing and hunting licenses have, and still do, expire on June 30 each year, no matter when the annual licenses are purchased.

That will partially change beginning on Jan. 1, 2014, when licenses purchased by saltwater recreational anglers will not expire until 365 days, or a full year, after the date of purchase. The new license will alleviate the annual rush to renew saltwater licenses before the June 30 deadline, and take some pressure off S.C. Department of Natural Resources staff.

“People have been asking for this for a long time,” said Wallace Jenkins of DNR’s Marine Resources Division. “It will reduce the workload for the agency when we don’t have to renew all of the licenses in just a couple weeks. It should be cost saving for the agency.”

The law does not affect freshwater fishing or hunting licenses.

•  Flounder: Since 2009 when a flounder population study program was put into effect for the estuaries from Pawleys Island to Murrells Inlet, this stretch of small salt marsh inlets has had a lower bag limit for flounder than the rest of the state.

The program put into effect limits of 10 flounder per person per day and 20 per boat per day while the rest of the state has continued to be ruled by 20 per person and 40 per boat per day limits.

That will all change when a new law goes into effect. Beginning on July 1, 2014, the entire state will be governed by a bag limit for flounder of 15 per person per day and a boat limit of 30 fish.

The limit will apply for both recreational hook-and-line fishermen and giggers. The 14-inch minimum size limit for flounder remains unchanged.

Black Sea Bass:

Fishermen have been clamoring for more access to black sea bass since the National Marine Fisheries Service clamped down on the species in 2010 when they were declared to be overfished and undergoing overfishing.

Black sea bass made a quick recovery after three years of very short recreational fishing seasons, capped by a 96-day season in 2012.

Thanks to a law pushed through by Rep. Stephen Goldfinch, R-Murrells Inlet, and CCA SC, the Palmetto State has snatched authority in state waters from the federal government.

Now, black sea bass can be harvested year-round in state waters, which extend out to three miles offshore. The federal minimum size limit of 13 inches remains in place in both state and federal waters.

When the species is shut down for the 2013-14 fishing season in federal waters (beyond three miles), which is likely to happen sometime this November or December, South Carolina fishermen can continue to harvest black sea bass in state waters.

•  Tarpon: Each summer and early fall, a small percentage of the fishermen who are fortunate enough to catch a tarpon in Palmetto State waters feel inclined to kill the non-edible sportfish for photo ops or to just show their catch off.

A number of these acrobatic, migratory fish are killed each year even though only measurements are needed to purchase a mount matching the fish caught.

A new law, pushed for by Sen. Chip Campsen, III, R-Charleston, will now make it more unlikely for anglers to have the opportunity to legally kill, or harvest, tarpon.

A tarpon now has a 77-inch minimum size limit in South Carolina waters, with the daily bag limit remaining at one per person per day. A 77-inch tarpon weighs about 150 pounds.

•  Daytime Gigging: Fishermen now cannot gig flounder during daylight hours, from official sunrise to official sunset, in South Carolina waters. The new law, pushed for by Rep. Nelson Hardwick, R-Surfside Beach, does not apply to underwater spear fishing.

“Spear fishermen underwater can see what they’re doing but when you’re above the water [during daylight], you can’t make it out,” said Hardwick. “You can’t tell what size [the flounder] is if you can’t see it. We’ve got a natural resource the good Lord has given us and it’s our duty to use it responsibly.”

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