- Associated Press - Sunday, June 21, 2015

HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. (AP) - The results are in.

DNA tests have found wild blood in Alice, a female Port Royal Sound cobia donated to the S.C. Department of Natural Resources late last month, according to Al Stokes, director of the Waddell Mariculture Center.

Because the adult fish was not hatched in a DNR fishery, she can spawn with researchers’ four wild, male cobia to help revive the species’ struggling, inshore population.

The process is complex but should take just a month.

Alice appears to have been stressed from handling during her capture by Hilton Head Island fisherman Collins Doughtie, an Island Packet and Beaufort Gazette columnist who has written extensively about the plight of local cobia. The female fish also underwent a taxing trek from the Waddell center in Bluffton — which is undergoing renovations — to the Marine Resources Research Institute in Charleston.

Though the cobia spawned the day after she arrived at that fishery, her eggs weren’t fertile, Stokes says. Alice is now on three weeks of tank-rest before she is injected with human hormones to jumpstart her spawning. Spawning takes about 24 hours after the injection.

It takes another day for fertilized cobia eggs to hatch and about three for them to grow old enough to feed on zooplankton, which the institute will grow in ponds.

“The timing is everything,” Stokes said.

DNR hopes to produce and release about 50,000 cobia this year through Alice and her male tank-mates and repeat the process next year. But the Port Royal Sound population faces an uphill climb.

The agency believes wild fish make up only about half of all cobia caught inshore, though they should account for nearly the whole population.

To improve the natural fishery’s health, DNR is considering several new restrictions on Port Royal Sound cobia fishing, which already limit catches to two fish per person per day. The agency plans to survey fishermen on the options in the coming months.

Boaters are also helping DNR by donating the filleted carcasses of their cobia, allowing the agency to record the conditions, measurements and DNA makeup of about 300 catches each year, Stokes says.

They can drop off fish at Waddell, the Hilton Head Boathouse on Squire Pope Road or at the Charleston institute.

Fishermen who wish to release cobia or don’t have time to deliver them can also take pictures to report their findings and use DNR kits to take small fin clips for researchers. Those free kits are available at Waddell, the Boathouse, Beaufort Marine Supply on Savannah Highway and Southern Drawl Outfitters on Fording Island Road in Bluffton.

“It’s fishermen’s choice,” Stokes said. “A lot of them like to help us out because the data is very helpful. Hopefully something good will come out of all this effort.”

___

Information from: The Island Packet, http://www.islandpacket.com

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