In response to a declining population, Lowcountry fishermen will soon face stricter catch limits on South Carolina's most popular saltwater gamefish.
The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources conducted a study on red drum last year and found that it was suffering from overfishing.
"We’ve been monitoring red drum populations across the state using the same techniques for nearly 30 years, and what we’ve seen over the last 10-15 years is concerning," assistant marine scientist Dr. Joey Ballenger, who oversees SCDNR’s red drum research, said in a press release.
In response, the South Carolina General Assembly passed a new law to limit the amount of red drum an angler can keep from three fish to two per day and imposed a daily limit of six red drum per boat.
The regulation, which goes into effect July 1, was signed by Governor Henry McMaster last month.
Adult red drum spawn in the fall, and in recent years, the an annual crop of new fish has dwindled. Increasing officials' concerns, fewer red drum are surviving from one year to the next compared to previous generations, according to S.C. Department of Natural Resources.
"Not only are we seeing declines in the annual crop of fish produced by adults, we are seeing that those produced are experiencing higher mortality rates," Ballenger said in the press release. "Over time, this translates to fewer and fewer adult fish being around to produce the next crop, resulting in a feedback loop that continues the process."
Overfishing in South Carolina has affected a variety of the state's most popular gamefish in recent years, including red drum and red snapper.
Adult red drum are already protected in South Carolina, so anglers can only keep those that measure between 15 to 23 inches in length.
As a result, nearly 80 percent of red drum caught by South Carolina anglers are released. But even under ideal conditions, studies estimate that 8 to 16 percent of caught-and-released fish die after release, according to the S.C. Department of Natural Resources.
In order to minimize the death of released fish, including red drum, officials are asking anglers to follow best practices.
Those practices include:
- Using a rig that minimizes the chance of hook damage
- Using gear that shortens the fight time
- Keeping the fish in the water