Redfish Fingerlings Released

Coastal Resources will need angler help to gauge the success of redfish stocking.

GON Staff | October 25, 2006

Over 750,000 redfish fingerlings have a new home in the waters of the Wassaw estuary near Savannah. In late September, State Senator Ross Tolleson (third from left) and DNR Board member Jenny Lynn Bradley (on the right) were among those who helped release fish.

Each year, Georgia DNR releases millions of hatchery-reared fish to create and enhance fishing opportunities for freshwater anglers. This year that effort expanded with the first-ever release of hatchery-reared red drum fingerlings into coastal waters. Between mid-August and late September, more than 750,000 small red drum, also known as redfish or simply reds, were freed into tributaries of the Skidaway and Wilmington rivers near Savannah. These fish were released as part of the Peach State Reds Initiative — a landmark partnership between Georgia DNR, anglers, fishing advocacy groups and the business community.

Spud Woodward, assistant director of the Coastal Resources Division of Georgia DNR, provided background on why Georgia is releasing juvenile redfish.

“For years our coastal fishermen have watched as Texas, Alabama, Florida and South Carolina invested in saltwater game-fish stocking programs. Many wondered why Georgia wasn’t doing the same. We looked at the results of these programs and decided to bring the matter before a citizens’ advisory group. After 18 months of study, the group concluded further research was needed. Specifically, the members advised that hatchery-reared redfish be released in one of Georgia’s estuaries following the methods used in South Carolina. That was the genesis of the Peach State Reds Initiative.

Since Georgia DNR doesn’t have a saltwater hatchery, they would need the assistance of South Carolina DNR, which operates the Waddell Mariculture Center near Hilton Head Island.

“Working with the South Carolina experts, we developed a study plan based on the release of hatchery-reared reds in the Wassaw estuary near Savannah,” said Spud. “We chose this estuary not only because of its proximity to Waddell, but also because we have an ongoing fish population survey in that area. Our goal is to release 500,000 fingerlings during autumn of 2006 and another 500,000 during 2007. Thanks to favorable weather and good spawning success, we exceeded our goal for this year.”

Over the next three years, Georgia DNR will document the survival of these fish through netting surveys and angler catches. The hatchery-reared reds look no different than their wild cousins, and they are too small to mark with conventional tags. This presents quite a challenge for scientists.

“Thanks to advances in the field of genetics, fish biologists, much like the crime-scene investigators featured on television, can use DNA as a powerful tool of discovery,” said Spud. “The fish released into the Wassaw estuary possess a unique genetic identity that stays with them throughout their lives. All we need is a small piece of tissue, like a dime-size piece of a fin, for the genetic analysis.”

Angler cooperation will be very important in tracking the fate of the hatchery-reared reds.

“Although we have a net survey in the area where the fish were released, fishermen encounter many more redfish than we see in the course of a year,” said Spud. “So, it will be very important to have help from the anglers who fish in the Savannah area.”

The Georgia DNR has several opportunities for fishermen to get involved in data collection. Creel clerks will ask to take a small piece of fin tissue from harvested fish they encounter during their surveys. Interested anglers can ask for a fin-clip kit to take their own tissue samples from the redfish they catch. Lastly, anglers can place the carcasses of their harvested reds in chest freezers located at selected marinas around the Savannah area.

The Peach State Reds Initiative has gained wide support from coastal anglers. The Savannah Sport Fishing Club has donated $10,000, and the Coastal Conservation Association is hosting the NeSmith Chevrolet Georgia Redfish Rally to raise part of the $75,000 the group has pledged. The project is estimated to cost approximately $500,000, with most of the funding coming from Federal Aid in Sportfish Restoration and state fishing license revenues. A Peach State Reds Initiative briefing document and timeline, as well as more info about redfish stocking, are available at

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