South Carolina and three other states will end a moratorium on red snapper fishing this weekend in the hopes that recreational anglers will donate carcasses of the popular fish for a study.
One of the fish collection sites will be on Hilton Head Island.
The moratorium will be lifted only for a limited time -- Friday through Sunday -- in South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia and Florida.
During the short season, biologists from each state will collect data about the fishes' ages and sex to assess the current population and estimate next year's numbers, S.C. Marine Resources Division deputy director Robert Boyles said.
Never miss a local story.
The moratorium on red snapper began in 2010 after it was determined they were being overfished, Boyles said. Boyles hoped the state would collect a few hundred carcasses.
Collins Doughtie, a Bluffton charter boat captain, suspects the study will show a healthy population in waters near South Carolina.
"The stocks off of South Carolina are gigantic," he said. "I consistently catch red snapper when I'm out. The moratorium is based on data around Florida where commercial fishermen hammered them."
Doughtie said fishermen in southern Florida need only to go about a mile off the coast to reach depths suitable to catch red snapper. By comparison, fishermen in South Carolina have to travel almost 30 or 40 miles off the coast to reach that same depth.
Because they are comparatively difficult to reach, the fish are more abundant in South Carolina, Doughtie said.
There are no size limits on catches during the weekend, Boyles said.
In Beaufort County, carcasses can be dropped off in a designated freezer at the Skull Creek Boathouse at 397 Squire Pope Road on Hilton Head Island, according to a state Department of Natural Resources news release. The freezer can be used 24 hours a day, and fishermen who donate a carcass will be entered into a drawing to win a Yeti cooler.
Other DNR freezers will be stationed along South Carolina's coast during the weekend. In Charleston Harbor, DNR will set up a booth to fillet the fish and return the meat to fishermen.
To donate the carcass, fillet the fish and keep the carcass with the head and tail intact. The carcass should be placed in one of the provided plastic bags with a catch card, also provided, after it has been filled out by the angler.
Follow reporter Matt McNab on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Matt.