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March 13, 2009

The Curious Case of Carolina Cobia

Favored fish flock inshore to Broad River each spring

Tracking year-class strength over time helps scientists understand the effects of angling on a fish population. SCDNR has some of the puzzle pieces, but research costs money that states have had to cut.

From studies on cobia in the wild and from research on hatchery-reared fish, SCDNR knows that most cobia begin spawning when they're two to three years old and close to the 30-inch mark.

In more recent studies, preliminary results show the presence of eggs and larvae in plankton net surveys of the Port Royal and St. Helena sounds. "So these fish are spawning inshore," Denson confirms. "I just can't verify that they don't also spawn offshore."

Limited stocking of cobia in the system has shown that the fish return to the same area at the same time every year. One fish released at about 12 inches long was recaptured four years later at 40 inches and 40 pounds, Denson says.

That's a pretty fast growth rate, especially for a somewhat long-living species, Kalinowsky says. Some studies have shown cobia live 12 or 13 years. Adult females are prolific spawners that release an average of a million eggs and spawn three times a season.

Kalinowsky's master's study also determined that the sex ratio of angler catches in the Broad is pretty much 1:1, females to males.

"There's some concern when you have a minimum-length limit that you may cause overharvest of one sex or the other," he says. "There's always concern that anglers are targeting big females. What I found, though, is that the harvest is pretty even."

Despite the cobia's biological resume, Kalinowsky warns against complacency. "My gut feeling on it is that as fishing pressure increases and other environmental conditions decline, we should watch carefully."

Carolina Contacts

Beaufort, South Carolina, Information

Capt. Tuck Scott
Seabrook, South Carolina

Capt. George Tilton
Fripp Island, South Carolina

Capt. Josh Utsey
Beaufort, South Carolina
843-524-1005, 843-812-4919