Red Drum, Sciaenops ocellatus
Red drum, Sciaenops ocellatus, is a highly prized recreational sport fish that inhabits coastal areas from the mid Atlantic states through the Gulf of Mexico. In recent years, red drum abundance has declined primarily as a result of fishing pressure from past commercial operations. Currently, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission classifies this species as “overfished”. As a result, state agencies have eliminated commercial harvest and implemented strict harvest regulations on recreational anglers in an effort to maintain sustainable populations.
In 2000, researchers with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) and Bears Bluff National Fish Hatchery (BBNFH) teamed up to determine the effectiveness of using hatchery produced red drum fingerlings as an enhancement tool to rebuild local populations. BBNFH contributes to this effort by producing approximately 500,000 fingerling red drum annually for stocking into the North Edisto River estuary near Wadmalaw Island, SC. Every September, BBNFH staff work with local anglers to evaluate the hatchery contribution to the wild population.
How do we do it?
Adult red drum are spawned in the fall at BBNFH. At two days old, the larvae are stocked into saltwater ponds where they are reared to 1.5 inches in length (4 to 6 weeks). Fingerlings are then harvested and stocked at high tide in flooded marsh grasses.
Every fall, BBNFH personnel along with participating local anglers use "hook and line" sampling to harvest one-year old red drum from the wild. When a fish is caught, the angler removes a small piece of fin (fin clip), measures the fish and then releases it. Collected fin clips are placed in a preservative then sent to SCDNR geneticists to determine whether the samples were collected from wild or hatchery produced fish. Biologists can estimate the relative contribution of each year’s stocking effort to the wild population by using this method.
Preliminary results indicate that stocking red drum can be used as an effective tool to increase local red drum populations. Future research will focus on determining long-term benefits of red drum stock enhancement.