About 100,000 red drum will be released into Port Royal Sound this week, allowing the S.C. Department of Natural Resources to study the fish's populations in Beaufort County.
The young, 1- to 2-inch-long fish will be turned loose in the Chechessee River at 1 p.m. Tuesday at the Edgar C. Glenn Landing at the Lemon Island bridge on S.C. 170.
The stocking is part of the department's effort to boost the population of gamefish, said Al Stokes, manager of the Waddell Mariculture Center in Bluffton. The public is invited to Tuesday's stocking to learn more about state and mariculture center research, he said.
Red drum are popular with local anglers and are also known as channel bass, spottail bass, redfish or reds.
The mariculture center is a Department of Natural Resources field station and raises the fish used to stock waterways around the state, Stokes said.
"It's a management tool," he said. "When you add fish to a population, it gives you an opportunity to get age structure in that population; young fish to replace the old fish. We learn about reproduction, for example, diet requirements and more."
At the Waddell Mariculture Center, scientists imprint the fish they raise with a genetic fingerprint. That way, taking samples years from now can tell which fish are wild and which were stocked by the department, Stokes said.
"Stocking is a powerful scientific tool helping us to understand and offset poor natural production," Mike Denson, who directs DNR saltwater research programs, said in a news release. "Insights gained through stocking advance our understanding of the condition and habits of South Carolina's red drum. This foundation of knowledge is essential for wise management of the fishery."
This year, state scientists have stocked more than 618,000 red drum in the Chechessee area and 411,000 in Winyah Bay near Georgetown, Stokes said. Last year, the department stocked 800,000 red drum, he said.
About 100,000 red drum ready for Tuesday probably will be the last batch of the popular gamefish for the Chechessee area this year, he said.
"Fishing is big business to the state," Stokes said. "Red drum is our most popular saltwater recreational fin fish, and some estimates are that it's worth nearly $200 million to this state's economy."
The department has been stocking red drum in the state for 20 years, which has contributed significantly to the species' population, according to the release. About 7 percent of adult red drum caught near Charleston Harbor were originally stocked by DNR, the release said.
The department also stocks other fish in water throughout the state. Last week, the Waddell Mariculture Center finished stocking about 20,000 striped bass in the Ashley River near Charleston, Stokes said.
Throughout the year, the mariculture center also raises cobia and spotted sea trout for DNR stocking programs, Stokes said. During its busiest times of the year, the center may have as many as 1 million fish in its ponds and has harvested more than 2 million fish in years past, he said.
Follow reporter Zach Murdock at twitter.com/IPBG_Zach.