One of South Carolina’s most sought-after saltwater species – redfish – have taken a beating due to overfishing for the past 6 years. That’s what a new study completed by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) has concluded.

So who is the ASMFC? That’s the agency that’s responsible for keeping watch over saltwater fishing for the region that runs from South Carolina to Florida. In short, they are in charge of telling state resources managers if they need to change fishing regulations on certain species. They don’t tell those states what to change their regulations to, they just tell them if they need to decrease recreational harvest, then leave it to state agencies like the SCDNR to figure out the best method of doing so.

The ASMFC is currently meeting in Virginia this week. They are looking over data from recent surveys, discussing it with directors from different state organizations, and will vote on any proposed changes.

While the latest data shows redfish numbers have actually increased since 2010, it also shows harvesting of the fish has increased, and so has the mortality rates of released fish. Recruitment numbers, or how many redfish fry are surviving each year, are down for the past few years.

Mel Bell, SCDNR fisheries director, is at the meeting, and said changes could be coming soon to anglers targeting redfish in South Carolina’s waters.

“We may have to adjust our management limits more conservatively,” Bell said.

South Carolina anglers are currently limited to keeping three redfish per day, and each one must be “in the slot” between 15 and 23 inches long. A redfish shorter than 15 inches, or longer than 23 inches, must be released. 

Prior to the year 2000, anglers could keep five redfish per day. That number was dropped to two fish in 2000, then raised to the current limit in 2006.

Due to the nature of the normal ups and downs of spawning cycles, it’s not uncommon for some years to have populations lower than normal, but those are usually interrupted by years with higher spawning rates. That does not seem to be the case though.

With what ASMFC communications director Tina Berger calls new models, technology, and methods of doing survey, the latest data is thought to be the most accurate count of redfish in the region, and it’s not good. Bell said fisheries managers have expected redfish numbers to make a rebound. Unfortunately, they haven’t, at least according to the latest survey.

“It’s surprising how low the numbers are for the entire region,” he said.

So what does this mean for recreational anglers in South Carolina? Will the limit be lowered, the slot adjusted, or a closed season take place? It remains to be seen, but it looks like some changes are on the horizon.