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Red Drum numbers down, experts sayBackbone of the local inshore charter fishing industry are usually plentiful in coastal waters

  • Thursday, April 3, 2014

photo provided According to SCDNR Data Winyah Bay does show a harvest rate, meaning fish which are taken by anglers and not released, that is above the state average.

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Local professional and amateur anglers may have cause for concern according to a recent South Carolina Department of Natural Resources report.

One of the area’s integral species, the Red Drum also known as the Redfish or Spottail Bass, may be experiencing a nearly statewide downward cycle of population fluctuation, including within our own Winyah Bay.

The Red Drum is considered by many to be the proverbial backbone of the local inshore charter fishing industry.

The large game fish, known for it’s dark red backs and characteristic eye spot near the tail, is found throughout the coastal waters of the Atlantic from Florida to Massachusetts and well into the gulf of Mexico. The species can live up to 40 years in the wild and when they reach a length of just over two feet they become sexually mature and are then commonly known as “Bull Reds”.

The assessment report, which is conducted annually by SCDNR, seems to indicate a gradual decrease in reported numbers of the species over the last decade or so. The data for the report is gathered through a series of year round scientific surveys conducted on all inshore South Carolina species using a variety of methods including trammel netting in which fish are captured alive and counted, measured and in the case of some larger species including the Red Drum tagged before being released. When the tagged fish are recaptured by additional surveys or by private fishermen data is gathered about their size, location and harvest rate.

The data gathered on the Red Drum indicates a drop in recaptures since 2004. It should be noted that in the three years prior to the last decade, the species showed exceptionally strong population numbers, which the last 10 years of data is compared to. The figures for the last ten years indicate a nearly statewide decline in numbers with some variance in severity between sites. The reports numbers for Winyah Bay fall roughly in line with the state average, though some sites such as the Cape Romain area in Charleston County have seen a much sharper decline.

One other piece of information to consider is that according to SCDNR Data Winyah Bay does show a harvest rate, meaning fish which are taken by anglers and not released, that is above the state average. This is evidenced by the wildly successful Red Drum fishing seen by many charter boats and private anglers across the area last season.

Dr. Steve Arnott of SCDNR says that the trend in the data is cause for some concern, especially considering the consistent downward trend in numbers. He stated that there could several factors contributing to the data presented in the report. Climate conditions do appear to affect Red Drum reproduction cycles. Another theory represented by Dr. Arnott was competition for food and habitat with Sea Trout, another institution of the local fishing scene, whose population numbers appear to be on an upswing according to the same report. Sea Trout also can prey on younger Red Drum.

Dr. Arnott pointed out that when competitive species co-habitate, such as the Red Drum and Sea Trout, it’s not unprecedented to see numbers of one species rise and fall depending on the success of the opposing species reproductive cycles.

Dr. Arnott states that the Red Drums population is always and will continue to be closely monitored by SCDNR. If the data continues in the current trend, there is the possibility of additional legal protective measures being assigned to the species. These could potentially include additional size and catch limits.

Any such action would have to go through the state legislature before taking effect though. The Red Drum is not due for a full protective status review until 2015.

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