Fishing-rule protest growing

A state protest against closing the ocean bottom to fishing is gaining line in the Legislature as local anglers rally to force regulators to change a federal law.

The S.C. Senate on Thursday adopted a resolution to officially oppose the proposed federal law that would close the red snapper fisheries along the state coastline. The law would essentially end nearly all bottom fishing offshore because the popular snapper is a bottom-dwelling fish.

The Legislature's resolution was approved by voice vote without a debate.

The bill now goes to the House for action, where similar legislation is pending.

The move is in reaction to a pending action by the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council, part of a new federal law that requires regional councils to end overfishing. The council regulates fishing in federal waters here; state laws tend to track federal laws.

Regulators say the move is needed to help restore a fish population considered to be in a long-term decline; anglers say not enough research has been done on a species that is widely caught.

The legislative action comes as nearly 1,000 Lowcountry anglers plan to take part in a rally in Washington, D.C., this month that they hope will draw public attention to the problem. A closure would put commercial captains all but out of business, they say, and curtail recreational fishing. That would disrupt saltwater fishing that is championed as a $600 million-per-year industry in South Carolina alone.

Sen. Paul Campbell, R-Berkeley, said he supported the resolution because the consequences would be too much when the impact on tourism and the money invested by fishermen in boats and crews is factored in. Instead, the authorities could institute catch limits, for example, he said.

"There is a better way to do it," Campbell said. "I support being more prescriptive instead of using a shotgun blast to take everything out."

Campbell said he believes the resolution will be persuasive because it reflects the voice of South Carolina's decision-makers. It could be more effective if state leaders encourage North Carolina and Georgia to also voice opposition, he said.