Our fisheries need your help

Paul Pancake is the newest member of the SAFMC’s advisory panel. (Picture by Chris Burrows)

By the time this column goes to print, I will have been forcefully “retired” from my capacity as an Advisory Panel member for the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council for approximately one month, with the December 2023 meeting in Beaufort, NC being my last official duty.

I have served my terms as a Panelist, Vice-Chair, and Chair, and I have run out of terms to serve. I believe that with all elected or appointed positions, term limits are probably for the greater good. No gold Rolex or banquet with an open bar awaits when this happens to anyone, let alone me. Regarding circumstances such as these, my father had a saying. “They’re not going to build a statue for you.” He was a wise man.

I joined the Dolphin/Wahoo Advisory Panel in 2010. I started with it because a few members of the fishing club that I was a part of asked me to. And I was a bit younger than most of those in the club, and the consensus was that I was well-spoken enough to be a part of the process, along with having a good bit of experience in the fishery first-hand.

In truth, I thought if I declined, they would just find someone dumber than me, and that thought scared me a bit. I also do have a degree in Political Science, which at that point in my professional life, I had used exactly zero times.


When I got to my first meeting, the chair of the Advisory Panel was Capt. Ray Rosher, who is nothing less than an absolute icon in the South Florida offshore scene. I had seen Ray on television more times than I could remember at that point. What I found out very quickly was that, in addition to being a great guy overall, he was extremely smart. He was also beyond passionate about preserving both the dolphin fishery, and access to it.

I caught on quick that he was doing this for the right reasons. Rosher never missed a meeting until his terms ran out, and at the end of each one, after the agenda had been completed, he always brought up the disservice that the Council had done to the charter fleets in South Florida and the Keys. Properly permitted boats were always allowed to sell extra dolphin to local restaurants after charter trips, and customers would often leave a few fish in lieu of a tip. Not only did this help the charter captains and mates out, but it provided the freshest local dolphin to restaurant customers, most of which were on vacation.

As no bag limits were being broken, it seemed like a great system, and Ray wanted it to be legitimate again. He went about it the right way and the Council always said “no.” By the way, this used to be the norm in some other areas with charter fleets, too. Some of these ports are a lot closer to home.

When Ray termed out, and I became Chair, it was always my goal to continue his work and get the ability for charter boats to sell a few fish directly to restaurants, so long as they were properly permitted. In that regard, my time as Chair has been a total failure. I never even got to first base with that one.

I was told recently that the Council, as it is, has no intention of even hearing about that issue again. What’s worse, the dolphin fishery has run into a host of new problems, some of which I have written about very recently. In short, it’s a changing landscape out there.


So, what do I really want? In short, I want to ensure that the ocean has fish left out there for my daughter to catch as she grows up. I also want her to be able to fish for them too. I want her to have access to fishing, an activity that has given me so much. To achieve this end, we need more fishermen involved in the process of fisheries management, at all levels.

I have long ranted about the lack of attendance at meetings. Also, public involvement seems to be at an all-time low. It seems that people don’t perceive these problems until their right to experience them is taken away, and only then do they get mad about it. However, I may see a glimmer of hope.

The newest Dolphin/Wahoo Advisory Panel member is a 33-year-old named Paul Pancake. I immediately recognized the name when I saw it on the list, because I remember Paul as a college student at Coastal Carolina, where I spoke to the fishing club years ago. Then we became friends.

All grown up as someone that age can be, Paul now works for Freeman Boatworks in Charleston. His company makes hardcore boats for hardcore fishermen. Paul was able to turn his passion for offshore fishing into a career in the marine industry. Not only that, but he’s also giving back by getting involved. After getting a chance to reconnect with him, I suspect he won’t have a problem with attending meetings.

Not everyone is going to take Paul’s route. Getting involved at that level is a time commitment and not everyone can make those sacrifices. We have so many other ways to at least be a part of the process. It’s as simple as making a comment during a public comment period. You can attend a meeting and comment that way. Join up or simply donate to advocacy groups whose views align with yours.

I hear all too often that “they won’t listen to me,” or “they are just going to do what they want to do, anyway. So what difference does it make?”

Well, without anyone taking part in the process, they certainly can do whatever they want. Democracy only works when people participate. It’s refreshing to see some new blood participating. The process needs a youth movement, and it’s good to see that maybe it’s starting with Paul.

I’ve been looking forward to this “retirement” for a while. Hopefully it means I get to fish more!

Your voice matters:

Many anglers won’t attend public meetings about our fisheries, refusing to believe their opinion matters. This lack of participation only hurts the fishery, leading those who refuse to participate into believing they have no voice in the issues at hand.

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