Thursday, August 1, 2013

Tarpon Conservation leaps into S.C. law

An S.C. tarpon, seen here jumping during a fight. Photo by Capt. Steve Roff

The South Carolina tarpon fishery has a new layer of protection with the new law limiting any tarpon harvest at one per day with a minimum of 77-inches fork length. Local tarpon fishing enthusiasts instigated the bill before being elevated to the Fish Game and Forestry Commission in the General Assembly. With the exception of a possible state record specimen, the Governor’s signature on this law mandates the catch and release of all tarpon in South Carolina. In the 1980’s local anglers were taught that only during the heat of August did tarpon inhabit the nearshore and coastal waters of South Carolina. The pioneering Captain Fuzzy Davis found early success in the southern waters of Calibogue Sound, but tarpon near Charleston were few and far between. Fast forward to 2013, and the tarpon migration is steady enough that two tarpon release fishing tournaments will be held this year. State Senator Chip Campsen is Chairman of the Fish, Game and Forestry Commission, an avid angler who released his first tarpon in Bull’s Bay. “This law came about because of a mutual passion for fishing between legislators, lobbyists, fishing tournaments and recreational anglers,” said Campsen. “We debated making this a pure release-only fishery but constituents wanted to keep a potential for a state record fish to be weighed. Previously there was no minimum size restriction.” Fred Allen is a lobbyist by profession, but his long time pursuit of tarpon conservation compelled him to work pro bono on behalf of this bill. “Fred Allen and I worked with Stephen Goldfinch in the House, the SCDNR Board and many others to craft this legislation,” said Campsen. New for 2013 is the tarpon release certificate anglers can apply for through the Marine Resources Division for any successful tarpon release. The Bonefish and Tarpon Trust (BTT) is working behind the scenes in South Carolina and elsewhere to secure coastal habitat and to promote conservation. The BTT will present the fourth annual Lowcountry Tarpon Tournament in Georgetown on September 12 – 14, drawing a wide variety of competitors. Attending each year is BTT board member Andrew McLain and University of Miami scientist Dr. Jerry Ault, and they concur that South Carolina is an important area for Atlantic coast tarpon. 2013 marked the 19th Annual Charleston Harbor Tarpon Release Tourney run by Cantey Smith a long time tarponist, or tarpon conservationist. Most anglers already understand that their golden memories from releasing the silver king far outweigh any incentive to harm them, and this new law extends this concept to everyone fishing in the coastal Lowcountry.

To view my feature article on the S.C. tarpon law click on Charleston Mercury.

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