Cobia, red drum fishermen casting for a way to preserve the resource

dlauderdale@islandpacket.comMarch 20, 2014 

Bricks being sold by the Hilton Head Reef Foundation as part of a joint "Buy a Brick, Build an Aquarium" fundraising campaign with the Waddell Mariculture Center and the S.C. Department of Natural Resources to build an education aquarium at the Port Royal Sound Maritime Center.


Old fishermen never die. They just get away, hoping others can fish another day.

That's the idea behind a new fundraising campaign to benefit two of Beaufort County's most popular and lucrative sport fisheries.

Memorials to local fishermen are being sold to honor the old salts, such as the late Don Kowtko of Hilton Head Island. The retired engineer was considered a guru of saltwater flyfishing in southern Beaufort County.

But the memorials have a larger mission: to see that new generations can experience the joy of chasing cobia and red drum in our sounds and rivers.

The nonprofit Hilton Head Reef Foundation is selling memorial bricks for $100. It is working with the Waddell Mariculture Center in Bluffton and the S.C. Department of Natural Resources to sponsor an educational aquarium in the Port Royal Sound Maritime Center being built in the former Lemon Island Marina building on S.C. 170.

The bricks will be used in the construction of a 3,000-gallon saltwater aquarium that will be 10 feet in diameter and 5 feet high. It will be home to cobia and red drum, as well as bonnethead sharks.

The aquarium is intended to draw attention to the fish and highlight the research funded by the foundation and Hilton Head Sportfishing Club to preserve the cobia and red drum fisheries.

It also will promote the need for continued research and public education.

In the past, tanks at the Waddell Mariculture Center have been used for this purpose. But foundation officer David Harter said the new maritime center will reach many more people.

Part of the message is that there's a lot more to catching cobia and red drum (also called spottail bass or redfish) than baiting a hook.

The foundation has long supported the Waddell Mariculture Center's red drum and cobia stock-enhancement efforts, its tour program, equipment purchases and repairs, renovations, and summer intern program. It assists DNR in its DNA research of Beaufort County red drum and cobia. It has been lead investigator for grants to put satellite tags in cobia, and it has administered a grant for a continuing study of the local adult red drum population.

The aquarium also should send a signal that people living in the Lowcountry must live in a way that keeps the public waterways clean.

And today's fishermen want the public to understand the economic and cultural significance the fighting cobia and red drum have on the Lowcountry.

Fishing clubs around the county have been invited to participate in the "Buy a Brick, Build an Aquarium" campaign.

It's one way that the hopes of old fishermen don't have to die.

Follow columnist David Lauderdale at

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