Al Stokes, executive director of the Waddell Mariculture Center, uses a net to dip shrimp from the indoor pond at the center in Bluffton. Stokes predicts shrimp farming, called aquaculture, is the future of the shrimping industry.
As the Friends of Waddell nonprofit group prepares for its annual "Taste of Waddell" fundraiser on Nov. 8, it's a good time to look at what the Waddell Mariculture Center in Bluffton has done for us lately.
The Waddell Mariculture Center, constructed in 1983 at Victoria Bluff, is a field experiment station of the S.C. Department of Natural Resources and is one of the country's largest and most sophisticated facilities for mariculture research.
For details on Taste of Waddell and to make reservations, go to www.friendsofwaddell.org.
What has it done for us lately?
We have the best red drum fishery on the East Coast. The Waddell Mariculture Center's red drum stock enhancement program is responsible for that continuing success, having stocked more than 20 million fish in South Carolina waters. The economic impact to the state is more than $150 million. These fish populations are monitored using DNA technology developed by the S.C. Department of Natural Resources.
Port Royal Sound is probably the most significant inshore spawning ground for cobia on the East Coast. According to DNA research, up to 80 percent of the inshore cobia caught the past two years by fishermen were produced at Waddell and stocked by SCDNR. Waddell has stocked nearly 70,000 juvenile cobia in Beaufort County waters in the past eight years. Recreational fishermen donated two adult live cobia to the center in 2015. South Carolina fishermen spend more than $3 million per year in the pursuit of our cobia (85 percent of the cobia captured in the state is captured in Beaufort County).
The Waddell Mariculture Center has stocked more than 700,000 striped bass in S.C. fresh and salt waters, reviving Charleston's saltwater striped bass fishery that had long been decimated by pollution and habitat loss.
The center has stocked 1 million spotted sea trout in Charleston waters over the past few years, while developing a rapid response stock enhancement program to protect this fragile fishery from severe climate fluctuations and habitat degradation (Beaufort County experienced cold kill three and four years ago).
The center recently received a $300,000 research grant to monitor the effects of stormwater on Beaufort County's sensitive saltwater marsh. Working with the University of South Carolina Beaufort and Beaufort County, baseline data will be established to improve the county's stormwater management plan.
The center opens its doors to students for tours and lectures. More than 500 students tour the center each year, and biologists provide lectures and tours to more than 3,000 guests. Donations made to the Waddell Fund were used to fund two full-time college internship positions this year. The center was able to offer volunteer work for five college students who worked at least one day a week to aid biologists. Three high school students volunteered to work at least one day per week.
The center is also part of the Marine Mammal Stranding Network. Biologists provide aid and assistance to injured whales, dolphins, turtles and birds.
The Port Royal Sound embayment, from the ACE Basin to the Savannah River, is the most pristine and biologically significant marine ecosystem on the East Coast. The Waddell Mariculture Center is the most important facility we citizens have to protect its health and enhance its role in our state's fishing, boating and tourism economy.
"I like to see a man proud of the place in which he lives. I like to see a man live so that his place will be proud of him." -- Abraham Lincoln
David Harter of Hilton Head Island is president of the Hilton Head Island Sportfishing Club.