I am probably as familiar with the workings of politicians at the state level as most people. I don’t want to see how sausage is made, and I don’t want to see how our laws are enacted — but I have a pretty idea about both subjects.
But every once in a while, something shows up on the radar that piques my attention. The latest is a possible effort by a few Upstate legislators to have an impact on a bill designed to change the way that blue catfish are managed in the Santee Cooper lakes.
The background on a bill that’s moving through the legislature is that the S.C. Department of Natural Resources believes it needs to tighten restrictions on blue catfish on Lake Marion and Lake Moultrie. Blues have probably unseated striped bass, largemouth bass, crappie, shellcrackers — whatever — as the primary gamefish species on the two lakes.
The drought that the Santee Cooper area — and much of South Carolina, for that matter — suffered through in the mid-2000s appears to be a major cause for what is considered a decline in the overall numbers and numbers of big fish, in particular, on the two lakes. The legislation now being discussed would set a 10-fish daily creel limit for blues and lower from 36 to 32 inches the “trophy” regulation that allows only one big blue a day per angler.
Whether or not the decline in the fishery will be naturally addressed in strong year-classes over the next two or three years — and some local anglers don’t believe there’s a problem; they think guides are blowing it up to protect their business — being proactive is always better than waiting for things to hit bottom before doing anything.
Typically, when a piece of legislation addresses what is considered a local concern, representatives and senators from other areas will defer to their peers from the affected area. That isn’t happening in this cases. It could be argued that the Santee Cooper lakes are bigger than just a local issue, that they attract so many visiting fishermen that they affect things far beyond the local economy.
What drew my attention was a newsbreaker by Phillip Gentry that is a few pages away in this magazine. Apparently, a few Upstate legislators may be in a position to negatively affect the legislation. For what reason? Pay-ponds are common in the Upstate and across South Carolina, and some pay-pond owners who have the ears of their local legislators are concerned that tightening restrictions on blue catfish in the Santee Cooper lakes would negatively affect their ability to obtain catfish with which to stock their ponds, from which they make a living.
What hogwash. South Carolina legislators should clearly see that using a public resource for private gain is wrong and decide on the bill based on what’s best for the fish and the fishery.