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Striper Moratorium ends Oct 1 for lower Savannah

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NEWS RELEASE #05-134 July 11, 2005 DNR News (803) 734-3950


A harvest moratorium on striped bass in the Lower Savannah River - in place since 1991 while two states worked to restore the waning species - will officially end Oct. 1, 2005. This will allow anglers once again to keep some of the fish they catch. The affected area will include the Savannah River from the Lake Thurmond dam downstream to the mouth.

Beginning Oct. 1, fishermen on the Lower Savannah River in South Carolina and Georgia waters will be able to keep a few of the striped bass and hybrids they catch. Since 1991, South Carolina anglers were permitted only catch-and-release fishing in the Savannah River from Augusta Diversion dam downstream to the mouth of the river. It had been illegal to harvest or keep any fish caught from Fields Cut below Savannah up to the Augusta Diversion Dam above Augusta, Ga. The Georgia Department of Natural Resources also plans to allow striped bass fishing with the same limits as South Carolina beginning Oct. 1, 2005.

For questions about the upcoming striped bass season on the Lower Savannah River, the public can call the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR) at (803) 734-3932 in Columbia.

Under the new law effective Oct. 1, any lawfully possessed fish of each of these species-striped bass, striped bass hybrids, white bass, or any combination-must be a minimum of 27 inches in total length. It will be unlawful to possess more than two striped bass, striped bass hybrids, white bass, or any combination of these species in the Savannah River and its tributaries and distributaries and the lands immediately adjacent to them from the J. Strom Thurmond Lake dam downstream to the mouth of the Savannah River defined by a line from Jones Island, S.C. (also known as Oysterbed Island) point at N 32 02, W 80 53; across Cockspur Island, Georgia, point at N 32 01, W 80 52 to Lazaretto Creek, Ga., point at N 32 01, W 80 52

On Dec. 10, 2004, after hearing biologists recommendations, the S.C. Natural Resources Board voted to lift the 1991 moratorium on striped bass fishing in the Lower Savannah River nine months earlier (October 2005) than had been planned and to ask the State Legislature to enact a law to lift the moratorium. The S.C. General Assembly during its 2005 session approved a bill (R100, S535) to lift the moratorium and establish catch limits. This bill was ratified as law on May 24 stating that the striped bass moratorium would end effective Oct. 1, 2005, and new creel and size limits would begin on that date. The new law amends Section 50-13-237 of the South Carolina Code of Laws.

In 1988, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Resources Division enacted a harvest moratorium for striped bass, with South Carolina DNR doing the same in 1991, as a protective measure after the population experienced drastic declines in the 1980s.

South Carolina DNR Fisheries biologist Chris Thomason said the drastic decline that occurred during the 1980s was a result of poor reproduction of the native striped bass population. A tide gate constructed in 1977 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the Back River, at Savannah, along with a diversion canal (New Cut), as well as channel deepening resulted in increased salinity levels, flow velocities and siltation in spawning areas. Since 1991, restoration efforts have included removal of the tide gate, filling of the diversion canal, and aggressive restocking by Georgia DNR. These stocking efforts have been very successful in increasing the numbers of striped bass in the Savannah River, with the current population approaching historic levels. Anglers have enjoyed the resurgence in the striped bass population over the last several years, and a popular catch and release fishery has developed.

Although the population has increased, most of the striped bass in the river are hatchery-reared fish. Therefore, Georgia DNR plans to continue its supplemental stocking and partner with South Carolina DNR in restoration and management efforts involving striped bass in the Savannah River, including natural recruitment assessments, annual population surveys and habitat improvement.

"Lifting the striped bass moratorium on the Lower Savannah River on Oct. 1 will allow anglers a chance to harvest fish for consumption and possibly trophy fish," Thomason said. The creel and size limit will also allow nearly all female striped bass to spawn at least once in order to continue the long-term goal of restoring the fishery to a self-sustaining population. Another benefit would be South Carolina DNR joining with the Georgia DNR to promote consistency in management and enforcement.

Thomason said that anglers have played a key role in helping striped bass return to harvestable numbers in the Lower Savannah by obeying catch and release rules and by funding recovery efforts through fishing license fees and the Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration program, which places a surcharge on fishing equipment such as rods and reels and lures.

-Written by Mike Creel -
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