Cobia Catch and Release
Last year, my wife wrote this blog about cobia. This year, I am pleased to announce that Mattson Charter Service, in order to contribute to conservation of Port Royal Sound's unique cobia fishery, will practice catch and release of all cobia caught on inshore charters or, if the angler so chooses, will donate the fish alive to SCDNR's Waddell Mariculture Center for their stocking program.
Scientists are continuing to gather more data about the cobia population. They have confirmed that cobia found inshore in Port Royal Sound represent a genetically distinct sub-population from the cobia found offshore. They have verified that the cobia coming inshore to Port Royal Sound represent a significant spawning aggregation. Using genetic techniques, scientists have also discovered that the Port Royal Sound cobia population has plummeted to a low level where there is a high probability of inbreeding. Because the Port Royal Sound cobia are a distinct population segment, there is little recruitment from the South Atlantic population at large. Even further, stocked fish represent a large percentage of the inshore harvest in a given year class. And fishing effort, as well as overall catch, continues to increase.
So what does that mean for us as fisherman in Port Royal Sound? Once they're gone, they're gone.
If we want to continue to catch cobia in Port Royal Sound, we as fisherman and charter captains need to begin contributing NOW to their conservation. The current limit of 2 fish per person per day is too high; rarely is a fish above the legal size limit caught and released in Port Royal Sound. The SCDNR is currently soliciting public input in order to make a recommendation to our lawmakers about changing these rules – but due to the legal process and the timing of the next congressional session, the earliest any new regulations might take effect is the 2017 season.
That is just too long to wait to start protecting these fish. If we don't take measures NOW to conserve the inshore spawning aggregation of cobia in Port Royal Sound, it may be too late later.
I would like to encourage all of my fellow fisherman and charter captains to adopt a catch and release policy on inshore cobia. Contact your lawmaker and tell them you support reductions in limits on landings of inshore cobia (this will not affect offshore regulations or catch and release inshore). SCDNR reports that limiting cobia to 1/person/day would result in a 12% catch reduction. Reducing the catch to 1/boat/day would result in a 33% catch reduction. A partial or full season closure will result in a 30-100% catch reduction. But until we know that our Port Royal Sound cobia population is in recovery, I will practice catch and release only of these amazing big, brown fish.