Biologists will complete their planned stocking efforts of juvenile red drum for the year with this week’s release of 3,000 13- to 15-inch fish around Little River and the Ashepoo, Combahee and May rivers.
South Carolina Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) biologists, along with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, have worked diligently since August to produce and stock red drum, also known as spottail bass, into state waters. Through the collaborative effort, 48 million red drum larvae, (three days old), and two million small juvenile red drum, (20-30 days old), have been released along coastal waters as part of the South Carolina Saltwater Recreational Fishing License funded Red Drum Stocking Program.
“To meet this aggressive production schedule, biologists worked around the clock from August through early November to complete the steps necessary for releasing the fish into the water,” said DNR biologist Wallace Jenkins.
Anglers wishing to assist the Red Drum Stocking Program by collecting genetic samples (fin clips) from their catch in stocked estuaries, or for additional information may contact DNR biologist Darin Jones at DNR, PO Box 12559, Charleston, SC 29422-2559, or via e-mail at Jonesd@dnr.sc.gov.
In 1987, the DNR’s Marine Resources Division began conducting intensive studies on recreationally important inshore fishes, including red drum. Research clearly demonstrated a decline in the number of red drum in South Carolina waters, and in 2001, changes in size and catch limits were enacted to protect this recreationally important species and allow for its population recovery. Currently, size limits for red drum have a minimum total length of 15 inches, a maximum total length of 24 inches, and a catch limit of 2 per person per day.
This year’s releases through the Red Drum Stocking Program began in the spring with 12,000 medium size juveniles released in Murrells Inlet and the Combahee River. 2006 activities have been designed to focus on understanding the relationship between size and method of release on the species’ recapture rate. Over the course of the year, red drum have been stocked at four life stages: three-day-old larvae; 20- to 30-day-old small juveniles, 1-2 inches; six-month-old medium juveniles, 5-7 inches; and 1-year-old large juveniles, 13-15 inches. Each group of red drum released can be separately identified by the genetic characteristics of their parents, which provide a “genetic fingerprint” for a particular release strategy.
“By letting fish go at various sizes and then documenting each group’s contribution to the local population, we can better define recruitment bottlenecks for the wild population and determine the most cost-effective stocking strategies,” said DNR’s project leader Dr. Mike Denson. Previous experiments have demonstrated that fish stocked as 20- to 30-day-old small juveniles make a large collective contribution to the local population and can even be found in spawning aggregations near stocked estuaries in significant numbers, many years after their release.