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March 13, 2009

The Curious Case of Carolina Cobia

Favored fish flock inshore to Broad River each spring

Everything we know about cobia points to a fish full of mystery:
? They follow stingrays and turtles along the coast, hoping the flappers uncover a meal.
? They curiously swim toward spear fishermen and boaters who venture to Gulf oil rigs.
? They wage a strong fight on the hook but fight even stronger when gaffed.
? They're the only species in their taxonomic family; they have no immediate relatives.
? And in very select locations along the East Coast during spring, they swim into coastal rivers and sounds - such as the Broad River and Port Royal Sound in Beaufort, South Carolina.

"Why do they come in? Are they following the herring? Coming in to spawn? We feel it's important to look at it from a scientific perspective," says Mike Denson, a research scientist with South Carolina's Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR). According to preliminary results from a two-part research project, Denson says, "95 percent are in late-maturation stage and getting ready to spawn."

Anecdotal information and theory, however, have led some scientists to believe that cobia spawn at the mouths of sounds and possibly offshore.

More mystery.

Broad Perspective
The Broad, Chechessee and Beaufort (pronounced BYOO-fert in South Carolina) rivers join to form Port Royal Sound. Cobia find deep (to 50 feet) saline water throughout the sound and up into the Broad.

"The salinities are very similar to offshore; it's almost like a salt 'pond,'" says Chris Kalinowsky, a Georgia DNR marine-biology associate who grew up in the Beaufort area and recently studied the region's cobia population for his master's work. "We can't say this is the only place they come to inside waters - they come in at Chesapeake Bay, and they may move in around Beaufort (pronounced BOW-fert), North Carolina."