July 19, 2022
(Photo Courtesy of Rep. Russell Ott)
By: Matthew Goins
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, people around the state hit the water in record numbers to free themselves from various confines and indulge in the state’s growing outdoor recreation industry and natural beauty. One of those South Carolinians was avid outdoorsman and state legislator Rep. Russell Ott (D-Orangeburg). “If you are looking for a positive to come out of the pandemic, it would certainly be that people were able to get on the water and realize the natural beauty our state has to offer,” said Ott.
As the state experienced a heavy increase in boating during the pandemic, Ott discovered the many hassles of age-old registration requirements and the lack of common-sense, industry-focused safety laws, which led him to help charter reform in the House and become a supporter of SCBFA efforts. “I don’t think there is anyone better to talk to when you are trying to craft boating and fishing laws than those involved in the industry,” said Ott.
As a boat owner and Sportsmen’s Caucus member, he worked closely with SCDNR to develop a way where boaters and anglers can have proof of registration electronically, a bill Gov. McMaster signed into law last April.
Ott applauds the collaborative effort of the General Assembly and DNR, which SCBFA helped spark and lead. “We have done a good job of working with DNR to listen to our boaters and anglers across the state and respond to what they are experiencing by crafting laws that make sense,” said Ott.
Although the boating and fishing industries took great strides legislatively, Ott believes the biggest accomplishment was the awareness raised throughout the state.
“The biggest accomplishment is the amount of attention drawn toward the industries,” said Ott. “A lot of credit is owed to SCBFA for leading those efforts.”
He believes boating and fishing are etched in the state’s history and hopes the state legislature will work to preserve and expand them.
“South Carolina is home to many boat manufacturers and fishing suppliers, which is fantastic. We must continue to determine ways to support them to ensure they can continue to profit, operate, provide jobs, and produce the products that so many South Carolinians love and desire,” said Ott.
While there should be a balance between conservation efforts and economic development, he believes preservation must be at the forefront.
“So many people are moving to the state because of its natural beauty and outdoor recreation opportunities it provides,” said Ott. “The focus must always be on preservation while also making sure people are able to enjoy the outdoors.”
In the next legislative session, he hopes the House and Senate can reach a resolution on boater safety laws due to the heavy rise in boating and fishing. “The numbers we are seeing make it more incumbent upon us to ensure we do everything we can to keep everyone safe while enjoying time on the water,” said Ott.
For Ott, family memories on the water drive him to advocate for the boating and fishing industries to ensure more South Carolinians have the same opportunities for generations to come.
“If you care about the outdoors and want to continue to see the industry prosper in this state, then you have to get involved because it can be gone in the blink of an eye,” said Ott.
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