Propagated Fish in Resource Management

Stocking Red Drum: Lessons Learned

Wallace E. Jenkins, Theodore I. J. Smith, and Michael R. Denson


Abstract.—Some fisheries managers have reservations concerning marine stock enhancement programs as they believe that stock supplementation is not a proven management strategy. Further, they consider the perceived risks of disease introductions, genetic degradation, and other possible negative impacts unacceptable for an unproven technology. The red drum Sciaenops ocellatus is a highly popular sport fish throughout southern U.S. waters, but population abundance has been drastically reduced due to overharvesting. For more than a decade, South Carolina has been evaluating the impact of stocked red drum in the overall management plan to restore abundance of this species. Findings to date conclude that stocked fish behave similarly to wild fish, sex ratio and survival of stocked fish is similar to wild fish, stocking effects are additive and increase local population size, growth of wild cohorts is not impacted by presence of stocked fish, stocked fish enter into the adult population, and negative genetic impacts are not likely in a properly managed program. Over this same time period, experiments conducted in Texas and Florida have also addressed many of the critical uncertainties associated with red drum stocking. Data from these three states have demonstrated that responsibly managed stocking programs can increase local abundance while not displacing wild red drum or causing loss of genetic diversity.

In spite of these encouraging findings, stocking should not be considered as a panacea or total solution to population restoration. Nursery and spawning habitats must be vigorously protected and regulations must be maintained to prevent overfishing if long-term sustainability is to be achieved. Similarly, based on data collected to date, stocking may not be the pariah that some managers perceive. Indeed, it will only be through additional controlled studies that the role of stocked red drum can be quantitatively assessed as a management tool.