Orangeburg National Fish Hatchery
Southeast Region
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Fish Species Raised at the Hatchery

American shad (Alosa sapidissima)

A USFWS Biologist holding an American shad
American shad

The American shad is the largest member of the herring family in the United States. It has been highly-valued as a commercial fish for the quality of its meat and roe (eggs) since the turn of the 20th century – providing an important food source to early American colonists and people today

In South Carolina, both a substantial commercial and recreational fishery remains for the shad. In the spring, commercial fisherman target migrating shad using gill nets while recreational anglers catch them with hook and line along coastal rivers, particularly along the Cooper and Santee.

American shad are anadromous, meaning they move from the sea to freshwater rivers to spawn. Specifically, they spawn in freshwater rivers of the east coast and then migrate to the salty waters of the Atlantic Ocean. They spend 4 to 5 years of their life growing and maturing in large schools in the North Atlantic. By spring, adults can be found migrating into freshwater rivers in search of spawning grounds.

American shad populations have dwindled in some rivers as a result of intense fishing pressure, habitat degradation, and pollution. Impoundments and dams create big problems for fish trying to migrate. Orangeburg National Fish Hatchery is in an agreement with the Santee River Basin Accord, which is a collaborative approach among utilities with licensed hydroelectric projects, and federal and state resource agencies to address diadromous fish protection, restoration, and enhancement in the Santee River Basin.

Striped bass (Morone saxatilis)

A biologist with a striped bass in hand during harvest
Striped bass harvest

Striped bass is the state fish of South Carolina and is a prized sportfish that is fun to catch and is also popular on menus. Most of South Carolina's coastal rivers support striped bass, the largest populations occurring in the Savannah, Cooper and Santee rivers.

The silvery striped bass gets its name from the 7 or 8 dark, continuous lines along the side of its body. Most striped bass weighing more than 30 pounds are females. The fish can weigh up to 100 pounds and reach nearly 5 feet in length!

Striped bass spawn in fresh water but spend most of their adult lives in the ocean. On the Atlantic coast they range from the St. Lawrence River in Canada to Florida's St. Johns River, although they are most prevalent from Maine to South Carolina.

Because striped bass need flowing water to spawn successfully, most reservoir populations are maintained solely by stocking.

Redbrest sunfish (Leponmis auritus)

A small group of juvenile fish in an aquarium with some sumberged vegetation
Juvenile redbreast sunfish in an aquarium.

Redbreast sunfish are a colorful and popular sport fish among anglers of all ages throughout the Southeastern United States. With a blueish-green body, the fish gets its name from its orange belly – which is bright orange in females and deep orange in males. Like other sunfish, it has a laterally compressed or flattened body.

Both males and females have vertical rows of red-brown to orange spots on the sides of the body. Traces of these spots can sometimes be seen tapering on the edge of the tail or caudal fin where the body connects. The caudal fin is generally an orange-red color. The operculum or gill cover has a distinguishing long black lobe. Blue lines can be found on the face or cheek area of the redbreast sunfish. Teeth are present on the roof of the mouth. The redbreast sunfish can live for about eight years and can grow to be between 2-9” and 3-8 ounces in weight on average.


The redbreast sunfish is native to South Carolina and can be found across the state. It prefers slow-moving waters such as pools and backwaters of streams and rivers and upstream reaches of reservoirs. They can be found in habitats with woody debris, stumps, undercut banks, shoreline riprap and rocky points. They prefer areas with a sandy bottom and generally avoid areas that are stagnant or heavily vegetated.

Every year, Orangeburg National Fish Hatchery stocks nearly a half million redbreast into the North and South Forks of the Edisto River, which is the longest free-flowing blackwater river in North America.

Lake sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens)

A USFWS biologists holding a lake sturgeon in his boat.
Lake sturgeon

Lake sturgeon are a temperate fish that live in freshwater systems of North America from the Hudson Bay through the Mississippi River drainages. This sturgeon prefers sand or gravel habitat on the bottom on a riverbed or lake. Lake sturgeon populations are declining throughout the species’ native range and are listed as threatened in 19 out of the 20 states it inhabits. There are several reasons for this decline including over-harvest and habitat loss due to dam construction.

The lake sturgeon is a docile fish despite its intimidating look and size. This species can grow to nine-feet in length and weigh more than 300 pounds! Like its prehistoric ancestors, lake sturgeon have a distinct shark-like tail and rows of armored plates called “scutes” for protection. This fish’s skeleton consists of bone and cartilage.

Lake sturgeon spend most of its time grubbing on the lake or river bottom for food. This species does not have teeth but have a small mouth with thick, sucking lips beneath the projecting snout. Lake sturgeon have four barbells (whiskers) in front of the mouth that are used to detect food like insects, worms, snails, crayfish, small fishes and other organisms. As soon as the sensitive whickers pass over food, the protrusible mouth drops down with an elevator-like motion and rapidly sucks in its meal.

Lake sturgeon are slow moving fish but will migrate up rivers during spawning season. Female sturgeons generally reproduce between the ages of 20 and 26 years old. Males usually mature between 8 and 12 years old. While the male sturgeon’s typical life span is 50 to 60 years, the female sturgeon can live up to 150 years!


Lake sturgeon populations once thrived as far south as the Coosa and Tennessee Rivers, but overharvesting and habitat alteration contributed to heavy population declines. Lake sturgeon were considered extirpated from the Tennessee River system by the 1960's, and Georgia DNR reported last confirmed lake sturgeon in the Coosa River dated back to the early 1970's. A gradual improvement in water quality and available habitat began in the 1970's with the passage of the Clean Water Act making restoration activities possible. Multiple partners are working within guidelines of the Management Plan for Restoration of the Upper Tennessee River Lake Sturgeon Population and The Lake Sturgeon, Acipenser fulvescens, Restoration Program in Georgia to reestablish populations using best management practices that include production, distribution, habitat and population assessment, research and outreach components.

Carolina heelsplitter mussel (Lasmigona decorata)

Two mussels marked with a numbered tag in front of a stream reach.
Adult Carolina heelsplitter in their native habitat

Federal Status

Endangered, June 30, 1993


The Carolina heelsplitter was first described in 1852. It has an ovate, trapezoid-shaped shell.

The outer surface of the shell varies from greenish brown to dark brown in color, and shells from younger specimens have faint greenish brown or black rays. The nacre (inside surface) is often pearly white to bluish white, grading to orange in the deepest part of the shell. However, in older specimens the entire nacre may be a mottled pale orange. The shell of the largest known specimen of the species measures 4.6 inches (11.68 centimeters) in length. Like other freshwater mussels, the Carolina heelsplitter feeds by siphoning and filtering food particles from the water column.

The reproductive cycle of the species is similar to other native mussels. Males release sperm into the water, and the eggs are fertilized when the sperm are taken in by the females through their siphons during feeding and respiration. Females retain the fertilized eggs in their gills until the larvae (glochidia) fully develop. The glochidia are released into the water and must attach to the gills or fins of the appropriate fish species. They remain attached to their fish host for several weeks, drawing nourishment from the fish while they develop into juvenile mussels. They do not hurt their fish host. The juvenile mussels then detach from the fish host and drop to the bottom of the stream where they continue to develop, provided they land in a suitable place with good water conditions. This dependence on a certain species of fish increases the mussels’ vulnerability to habitat disturbances. If the fish host is driven off or eliminated because of habitat or water quality problems, the mussels can’t reproduce and will eventually die out.


The Carolina heelsplitter requires cool, clean, well-oxygenated water. Stable, silt-free stream bottoms appear to be critical to the species. Typically stable areas occur where the stream banks are well-vegetated with trees and shrubs.

Historically the Carolina heelsplitter occurred in several locations within the Catawba and Pee Dee River systems in North Carolina and the Catawba, Pee Dee, Saluda, and Savannah River systems in South Carolina. Today, only ten populations are known to survive. In South Carolina, the Carolina heelsplitter remains in the Pee Dee, Catawba, and the Savannah River systems. The species still occurs in two small streams in North Carolina – one in the Catawba River system and one in the Pee Dee River systems. Finally, one population exists on the North Carolina/South Carolina state line, in the Catawba River System.


Poor water quality and habitat conditions have led to the decline and loss of populations of the Carolina heelsplitter and threaten the remaining populations. Studies have shown that freshwater mussels, especially in their early life stages, are extremely sensitive to many of the pollutants (chlorine, ammonia, heavy metals, etc.) commonly found in municipal and industrial wastewater releases. Impoundments (dams), channelization projects, and in-stream dredging operations directly eliminate habitat. These activities also alter the quality and stability of remaining stream reaches by affecting the water flow, temperature, and chemistry.

Agriculture (both crop and livestock) and forestry operations, roads, residential areas, golf courses, and other construction activities that do not adequately control soil erosion and water run-off contribute excessive amounts of silt, pesticides, fertilizers, heavy metals, and other pollutants that suffocate and poison freshwater mussels. The alteration of floodplains or the removal of forested stream buffers can be especially detrimental. Flood plains and forested stream buffers help maintain water quality and stream stability by absorbing, filtering, and slowly releasing rainwater. This also helps recharge groundwater levels and maintain flows during dry months.


Carolina heelsplitter glychidia raised at Orangeburg NFH
Juvenile Carolina heelsplitters at Orangeburg NFH

While North America has the highest diversity of freshwater mussels in the world, approximately 70 percent of them are now either extinct or imperiled – posing a threat to riverine ecosystems and their many inhabitants. To help save these important aquatic animals, biologists are working on new initiatives to breed freshwater mussels in captivity, with hopes of supporting wild populations and saving species from extinction.

At Orangeburg National Fish Hatchery, efforts are underway to save the critically endangered Carolina heelsplitter, South Carolina's most endangered freshwater mussel. Biologists estimate there are only 154 Carolina heelsplitters left in the wild.  They are finding old mussels spread further and further apart from each other, making it very unlikely that effective reproduction is taking place.

Captive breeding and re-introduction to augment the dwindling wild populations is part of a last resort strategy to save the Carolina heelsplitter.  According to surveys and reports, unless biologist work quickly to protect mussel habitat and support fragmented, isolated populations, this species is likely to go extinct in the wild in the foreseeable future. In the first year of operation (2015), Orangeburg National Fish hatchery produced more than 5,687 juvenile Carolina heelsplitter mussels.

Last updated: January 25, 2016