Peach State Redfish Initiative

Peach State Reds Initiative (PSRI)

“Have you felt the “lift” of a channel bass,
And stood with bated breath
To cope with the coppery comet’s rush
In his struggle for life or death?”
– Philip Arnold La Vie, The Call of the Surf

The red drum, aka channel bass, red fish, redfish, spot tail bass or simply reds, are commonly found in the Atlantic Ocean from Maryland to Florida and in the Gulf of Mexico from Florida to Northern Mexico. Figure below (Wenner)
Redfish Range
Red drum is the only species in the genus Sciaenops. The red drum and it’s cousin the black drum, live closely to each other, and may interbreed resulting in hybrids. Red drum are a dark red or bronze color on the their backs, evenly fading to cream color or white on the belly. The red drum are most well known for having a black eye spot on or near their tail. A typical three year-old red drum will weigh between six to eight pounds. When they are near or over twenty-seven inches, they are called “bull reds”. The largest red drum on record weighed just over 94 pounds and was caught in 1984 on Hatteras Island, North Carolina.

Executive Order 13449

During the late 1970s red fish numbers began to decline, possibly because of over-fishing of smaller red fish in coastal waters by indiscriminate fishermen. When catches of red fish declined in the 1980s many believed that it was being commercially over-fished because of its recent popularity. For example; The famous and now deceased chef Paul Prudhomme made his dish of Cajun style blackened red fish a big hit in the early 1980s. Commercial fishermen harvested approximately 28 percent of the red fish taken were as sport fishermen landed 72 percent between the years 1980 and 1988. As such, President George W. Bush issued Executive Order 13449 on October 20, 2007, designating the red drum as a federally protected game fish. As a protected game fish, Executive Order 13449 prohibits the sale of red drum caught in Federal waters.

In 2006 the Peach State Reds Initiative or Peach State Redfish Initiative (PSRI) was launched under the guidance of and now Director of the Georgia Coastal Resource Division, Spud Woodward and managed by Doug Haymans to,

“determine if stocking hatchery-raised red drum in Georgia waters is feasible” (Haymans)

“We only want to determine if such a stocking program can be successful and can be used as a future management tool should it ever be needed” (Woodward)

One would have to ask the question; If you release half a million red fish fingerlings into Wassaw sound the first year and another half a million the next year, then surely this must increase the numbers of red fish in the Savannah coastal area. However, so far there has been little if any public data released in digital form regarding the program success of failure.

The PSRI was scheduled to conclude in 2009, and the results were promised to be publicized through

“meetings, press releases, and presentations” (Haymans)

So far there have been a few brief mentions of PSRI during public meetings. Furthermore, there is simply nothing to be found online.
In the Spring 2009 edition of Georgia Sound an online public announcement paper published by Georgia Department of Natural Resources Coastal Resource Division (GDNR-CRD) the following was published,

Anglers Aid In Study of Hatchery-Reared Redfish

Anglers Aid In Study of Hatchery-Reared Redfish –
During 2008, volunteer anglers provided over 200 tissue samples from one and two-year-old red drum caught in the Wassaw estuary near Savannah. Anglers collected tissue samples by clipping a dime-sized piece of fin and placing it in a vial filled with preservative. CRD collected the vials and sent them along with another 400 samples collected during scientific surveys to South Carolina DNR. Geneticists will use the samples to determine if the fish were wild or hatchery-reared as part of the Peach State Reds Initiative.

From July through December 2008, an additional 275 red drum angler interviews were conducted in Chatham County. Information from these interviews will yield more precise estimates of red drum catch and harvest. A survey of red drum anglers will be completed during the autumn of 2009. The results of these and other surveys will be compiled as a final report of the Peach State Reds Initiative in early 2010. For more information about the Peach State Reds Initiative go to http://www.peachstatereds.org/ or call Doug Haymans” (Georgia Sound Vol.15. No.1)

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Georgia House Bill HB-36 and House Bill 1567

In March of 2013, HB-36 passed the Georgia State Senate by a 38-12 vote thus placing game fish status on Georgia red fish. This officially makes the red drum Georgia’s first saltwater game fish. What this means is red fish caught in Georgia state waters cannot by bought or sold commercially. Farm raised red fish however, can still be bought and sold commercially.

The PSRI would benefit by this game fish status in that in theory there should now be more redfish in the area for recreational fishermen. If this is the case then more redfish mean more baby redfish. Maybe not as stated here by Dr. Charles Wenner,

“Of the millions to billions of eggs that are spawned only a small proportion survive to reach the nursery grounds” (Wenner 18).

Having released one inch fingerlings the odds of survival should have gone up considerably. In fact however, most local fishermen report no noticeable difference in the numbers of red fish caught what so ever.

They grow rapidly, and by one year old, they may be 13 to 14 inches long, what is commonly called a “Rat Red” or “Puppy Drum”. Anyone who has fished the local Savannah salt water can tell you there is never a shortage of rat reds. In fact there have always been an over abundance of these puppy drums. States actively vary the size limit restrictions to maintain current and future red drum populations. And as such, stricter management practices have allowed the species to recover.

The question was, has the PSRI program been a success or not necessarlly a failure but more of a fizzle. When the program was first announced many people in the local area were very excited. After all a website dedicated to the initiative was established, graphic designs were created and the future seemed bright. It is odd that a much hyped program was in effect, it would seem, kicked to the curb.

Hopefully the data simply has not been released yet and is sure to be forth coming. If that was the case it would seem illogical to let the much valued domain name slip into obscurity. In fact, that is exactly what has happened. The only conclusion one can draw from this lack of data is no conclusion at all. The public, has received little if not any of the promised data on the results from the PSRI study. It is fine to post a few numbers in the Georgia Sound online. However, this hardly qualifies as substantial detail in regards to a scientific study which would normally be expected to produce volumes of tangible data.

Redfish Volunteers Wanted

Clearly, the only thing left to do is launch my own study which I will begin this fall. I hope to find copious amounts of “volunteers” for the study.

Bibliography:

“Georgia Sound Newsletter | Spring 2009 | Coastal Resources Division, Georgia Department of Natural Resources.” Georgia Sound Newsletter Archives | Spring 2009 | Coastal Resources Division, Georgia Department of Natural Resources. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Apr. 2013

“Red Drum.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 19 Apr. 2013. Web. 21 Apr. 2013

Wenner, Charles. “Red Drum.” Natural History and Fishing Techniques in South Carolina. SC Mar. Res. Center, Educ. Rep 17 (1992): 4

Stick, Frank. The call of the surf. Doubleday, and Page, 1920.

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