In spite of the fact that our Cobia and Tarpon fishing seasons have been less than spectacular, I don't think there is any reason to get concerned about them unless we start to see a multi-year trend. These fish are both migratory and are subject to a number of variables in bait and water temperatures each year as they move up the coast from Florida. In contrast our Red Drum fishing has showed continual improvement each year to the point that we are seeing activity this year never seen before by most of our inshore fishermen. Because our Red Drum populations are a non-migratory species, there are probably a number of different reasons for their success here.
Back in the early 80's a famous New Orleans chef, Paul Prudhomme became nationally famous for his blackened Redfish recipes. It became such a craze that some Gulf Coast fisheries were completely devastated in the attempt to take advantage of this boom. Because this fishery had been so good all along the Gulf and Atlantic Coasts, the fishermen thought that it was invulnerable. The Red Drum were easy to target in large schools with nets and everyone was selling their catch because there were few limits on size and possession. Most of the states then introduced crash limits in order to save what was left of their fishery. After a number of changes, South Carolina's Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) finally ended up with a 2 per person limit, you could not sell it, and every fish over 24 inches had to be released. The Federal fisheries managers also outlawed any fish caught in federal waters (3 miles offshore).
Tagging studies on Red Drum have shown that 95 per cent of our Red Drum do not migrate more than 10 miles from where they are caught. Other studies have shown that the healthier that your ecosystem is the better the fishery. Our juvenile Red Drum grow up in our saltwater creeks and marshes feeding on grass shrimp and copepods. The better the water and sediment quality, the more of these marsh dwellers you have. In other words, like Las Vegas, whatever happens here stays here. If our Beaufort County fishery were to collapse, we would have no one to blame but ourselves. Right now, in our sounds the fishermen are seeing huge schools of mature Red Drum feeding on bait schools on the surface. Mandating the release of all large, sexually mature fish is apparently paying good dividends. These big fish spend most of their lives offshore, so the Federal zero limit has helped tremendously also. The banning of sales of the fish because of its game fish status makes good sense; the large fish are course and strong tasting so we've eliminated any reason to keep them except for the "macho" factor of dragging it back to the dock and hanging it on the hook.
The Waddell Mariculture Center in Bluffton also deserves a lot of credit as they have raised and released over a million juvenile Red Drum in Beaufort County waters over the last several years. We've also had mild winters over the last few years which relieves the stress on the sub adults which over winter in the deeper parts of our creeks and sounds. All these factors have seemed to pull together to create a Red Drum fishery that is far better than most local fishermen can remember.