Of the pelagic species that migrate up the Southeast coast in spring, cobia are the big brown prize anglers covet for their dogged fight and excellence as table fare. The Sun News file photo
Recreational landings of cobia closed in state and federal waters in 2017
By Gregg Holshouser
For The Sun News
Of the pelagic species that migrate up the Southeast coast in spring, cobia are the big brown prize anglers covet for their dogged fight and excellence as table fare.
In 2017, anglers who hook up with a cobia, whether on a school of bait along the beach or an offshore bottom spot, will have to release the fish in all waters off the South Carolina coast.
NOAA announced on Tuesday the recreational harvest of Atlantic migratory group cobia will be closed for the remainder of 2017 in federal waters (beyond three miles offshore), from Georgia to New York.
Since 1996, South Carolina has automatically adopted regulations and closures put in place for federally managed species, meaning cobia cannot be harvested in South Carolina state waters either in 2017. State waters extend out to three miles offshore.
In the spring, cobia, which can reach weights of over 100 pounds but are common in the 30-50 pound range, meander northward as the water temperature warms, preferring temps in the 65-70 degree range in areas with plenty of bait. They then return offshore or to the south when the water cools in autumn.
Catching just one cobia can make the fishing trip for recreational fishermen and guides, but in 2017 they will have to be satisfied with the thrill of the fight and release.
NOAA states that in 2016 the recreational and total annual catch limits of Atlantic migratory group cobia (Georgia to New York) were excessively exceeded, and the 2017 season has been sacrificed to account for the overage.
Mel Bell, Director of the Office of Fisheries Management for the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, said on Thursday that in 2016 the recreational annual catch target for cobia in the Atlantic group was 500,000 pounds but by August 1.3 million pounds had been landed.
How was the overage so excessive? Bell points to South Carolina’s neighboring states.
When federal waters were closed to cobia landings on June 20, 2016 for the remainder of the year, South Carolina coincided by closing the recreational cobia fishery in state waters.
Meanwhile, state waters in Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia remained open, and anglers continued harvesting cobia for the rest of the season in those three states.
While Bell says the majority of cobia annually caught off South Carolina and Georgia are landed from federal waters, the majority in North Carolina and Virginia are landed in state waters.
For now, with the disparity of cobia regulations in state waters, anglers in Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia will continue to be able to harvest cobia in state waters when they return this spring and summer. South Carolina anglers will be left out.
Bell hopes changes are on the horizon. The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission has a Draft Cobia Fishery Management Plan in the works, which will be discussed at the Commission’s winter meeting next week in Alexandria, Va.
The ASMFC manages species in coastal waters from Maine to Florida, and could eventually consolidate cobia regulations in state waters along the Atlantic Coast.
The Student Angler League Tournament Trail is hosting a fund-raising fishing seminar on Feb. 4 at St. James Middle School in the Burgess community.
Nine 20-minute seminars covering a variety of topics will be staged, beginning at 8 a.m.
The seminar benefits SALTT, a tournament trail featuring divisions for red drum and largemouth bass, with middle and high school anglers competing in the tournaments. All SALTT events are held out of the Carroll Campbell Marine Complex in Georgetown.
The lineup of speakers includes a group of very knowledgeable and engaging local fishing guides.
Tickets are $20 in advance, $25 at the door. Tickets also serve as a raffle ticket for a charter trip donated by Capt. Jason Burton of Fly Girl Charters and Murrells Inlet Fishing Charters.
Students in grades 1 through 12 are admitted to the seminar free of charge.
The seminar schedule follows:
▪ Redfish Conservation/Future, Mike Denson of S.C. DNR.
▪ Inshore Fishing, Capt. Fred Rourk of Sweet Charters and Capt. Greg Holmes of Fish Skinny Charters.
▪ Offshore Fishing, Capt. Dan Carey of Careyon Charters.
▪ Bass Fishing, Bobby Marks of Bass Pro Shops.
▪ Kayak Fishing, Mike Eady and Johnny Wigfall.
▪ Offshore Fishing, Capt. Jay Sconyers of Aces Up Fishing.
▪ Bass Fishing, Andrew Young of Young Fishing.
▪ Inshore Fishing, Capt. Dan Connolly of O-Fish-Al Expeditions.
▪ Nearshore Fishing, Capt. Jason Burton and Adam Goodwin of Murrells Inlet Fishing Charters.
St. James Middle School is located at 9775 St. James Road, Myrtle Beach, SC, 29588.
For more information, visit www.salttfishing.com.