- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 3, 2015

HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. (AP) - Wildlife officials are worried about the decline in the cobia population in South Carolina waters, leading some to call for stricter cobia fishing regulations.

The Department of Natural Resources says there has been a drastic drop in the number of fish spawning near the shore, the Island Packet of Hilton Head reports (http://bit.ly/1FT8ca1 ).

Port Royal Sound cobia are unusual because the species usually spawn in much deeper waters.

The department released about 60,000 cobia into Port Royal Sound between 2004 and 2009. Research has shown that those fish make up about half of the cobia caught each year. That means the number of wild fish have dropped sharply.

Michael Denson with the Marine Resources Institute in Charleston says he would like to see fish bred by the agency make up only about 2 percent of the overall population.

“We have a small population, and it’s fished pretty hard,” Denson said.

To address the problem, the Department of Natural Resources has said the state should limit catches to one cobia per person per day. Current regulations allow two fish per person per day. The state also could increase the minimum size of a fish that can be kept, the agency said.

A new law could be in place before next season, Denson said.

Charlie Beadon of Hilton Head Fishing Adventures said Port Royal Sound used to be the cobia mecca of the East Coast, but recreational and charter fishermen have wiped them out. He said the fishery should be shut down for five years to allow the cobia population to recover.

“Now that there’s no fish, everybody’s whining and complaining and wanting to know where they’re all at,” Beadon said. “I just look at them like, you killed them all.”

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

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