Georgia Considers Redfish Stocking Program
The Peach State Reds Initiative will help answer the question of whether hatchery-reared redfish are a responsible way to use angler dollars.
The Georgia Department of Natural Resources wants to make sure that red drum fishing continues to be an important part of the social, economic, and ecological fabric of the coast. Should the release of hatchery-reared redfish into tidal rivers and creeks be part of the long-range plan?
Many of Georgia’s saltwater anglers think so because of simple, but perhaps flawed, logic — more fish into the water means more fish to catch. But, does it really work that way? Unfortunately, there is little relevant science-based information available with which to answer that question.
Recognizing that public opinion in support of redfish stocking was growing, Georgia DNR formed a citizens advisory group in 2002. The Red Drum Stock Enhancement Advisory Panel visited Florida and South Carolina, saw the multi-million-dollar saltwater hatcheries and talked to their scientists. After 18 months of study and quite a bit of debate, the group determined that hatchery-reared redfish have potential as a fishery management tool in Georgia. However, they also agreed that no final decision should be made until there was more science-based information specific to Georgia. Enter the Peach State Reds Initiative (PSRI).
The goal of the PSRI is to conduct an experimental release of hatchery-reared redfish in a Georgia estuary. This will be accomplished through joint ventures, the most significant being with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, which has both a saltwater hatchery just across the border in Bluffton, and staff with vast experience spawning and rearing redfish in captivity. The South Carolina DNR’s involvement is absolutely essential since Georgia does not have a saltwater fish hatchery.
A second joint venture will be with the University System of Georgia whereby faculty and students with expertise in marine-fish research will partner with Georgia DNR to conduct net- and angler-catch surveys to determine the survival, growth, and habitat preferences of the hatchery-reared redfish for two years following stocking. Other partners are the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which will provide technical advice and the Coastal Conservation Association — Georgia, which has pledged to raise $75,000 to support the initiative.
The first field activity of the PSRI will be the capture of 24 adult redfish from the waters of the Wassaw and Savannah River estuaries this October. These 30-lb.-plus fish will be held in captivity at South Carolina’s Waddell Mariculture Center for a year before they’re induced to spawn in autumn 2006. The offspring will be reared in hatchery ponds for 15 to 30 days, after which 500,000 one- to two-inch fingerlings will be transported to a new home in the Wassaw estuary near Savannah. A new batch of adults will be captured in autumn 2006 and will be used to produce 500,000 offspring for release in October 2007.
A secondary project of the PSRI will involve holding a minimum of 1,000 fingerlings in the hatchery until they reach a length of five to seven inches. These fish will be marked with anchor tags, and transported to Jekyll Island and released in a 10-acre saltwater impoundment known as the Ski Rixen Pond. Similar to the process in the Wassaw estuary, the Jekyll project will use angler and net surveys, as well as tag returns, to document the survival, growth and movement of these hatchery-reared fish.
To the angler, the hatchery-reared redfish will be indistinguishable from their wild cousins. However, thanks to advancements in the use of DNA, it will only take a small piece of tissue clipped from a fin to tell a scientist whether the fish came from wild or captive parents. DNR will provide volunteer anglers with the supplies necessary to collect fin clips from the fish they catch and release. Creel clerks will be collecting fin clips from the redfish they encounter during angler interviews. Anglers can also donate the filleted carcasses of the redfish they harvest through the Marine Sportfish Carcass Recovery Project. Chest freezers are located at several fishing access points in the Savannah and Brunswick areas.
In 2009, the final results of the Peach State Reds Initiative will be publicized. At that time the saltwater angling community and Georgia DNR will have better information to decide whether additional redfish stocking is warranted. A Peach State Reds Initiative briefing document and timeline, as well as more information about redfish stocking, is available on the Georgia DNR, Coastal Resources Division website. To view that, go to http://crd.dnr.state.ga.us.
If you have questions contact Spud Woodward or Doug Haymans at the CRD office in Brunswick at 912.264.7218.
Keep reading GON for more updates about the PSRI.
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