Fisheries bill is a winner — this time

The freshwater fisheries bill that may be passed into law by press time is a piece of legislation that’s far-reaching but not far-fetched, needed to address issues that have developed in recent years and, at the same time, a reminder that things still aren’t done just right.

The bill puts into law changes in creel and size limits on a number of freshwater species, both at statewide and local-lake levels, which is pretty much how fisheries management is supposed to work. Biologists recognize the particular differences in habitat between bodies of water, and they need to be able to manage them on a case-by-case basis.

That’s how things worked this time around, but not without a bump in the road. The bill was sidelined in last fall’s session of the S.C. general assembly by a legislator who blocked it in an attempt to gain traction for another piece of legislation. But it had such across-the-board success that he was re-incarnated this year and quickly passed both chambers.

But the fact that managing a lake’s fishery could become a political hand-grenade is still a really bad deal.

With habitat changing on sometimes on a rapid basis, biologists with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources might find themselves in a situation where they need to put a solution in place shortly after they come up on a problem.

A couple of poor year-classes might cripple the crappie fishery in one lake; an extremely dry, hot summer might have a discernible and negative effect on the striped bass in another. Having to wait through an entire legislative session to try and change a regulation is a disaster in the making, especially if a legislator or two thinks he or she knows better or has a personal opinion that overrides sound science.

A perfect example is the cold-stun kill of much of South Carolina’s coastal population of spotted seatrout in 2011. The SCDNR was helpless to protect speckled trout through regulations; it had to resort to a plea to fishermen to practice catch-and-release for the better part of a year. A better situation would have been for SCDNR officials to be able to close or restrict a fishery to protect it at its most vulnerable point.

The same goes with wildlife issues. It’s become apparent to most hunters that the Palmetto State’s whitetail deer population is no longer on the rise; in fact, evidence is available that suggests that habitat changes and the appearance and rise of the coyote has literally taken a bite out of the herd. But if you think SCDNR can put together regulation changes aimed at addressing those concerns and get them through the legislature, think again.

Somebody, somewhere, needs to figure out how to get the legislature to untie the apron strings and let fish and wildlife managers take care of our natural resources without having to pass a bill.

About Dan Kibler 887 Articles
Dan Kibler is the former managing editor of Carolina Sportsman Magazine. If every fish were a redfish and every big-game animal a wild turkey, he wouldn’t ever complain. His writing and photography skills have earned him numerous awards throughout his career.

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