Striped bass and other fish living in the Lower Santee River are struggling to survive high water temperatures and overcrowding. The extended Santee Dam flood gate opening associated with last fall’s flooding spilled an excessive number of lake fish into the river, and anglers have reported seeing unusual numbers of striped bass carcasses in the river for several weeks.
After anticipating crowding problems this past spring, S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR) fisheries personnel moved 360 large striped bass from below the Santee Dam to Lake Marion before water temperatures became stressful. But despite the transfer, crowding and heat stress are expected to be a continuing issue all summer long.
Striped bass select for water temperatures below 78 degrees Fahrenheit and begin to stress at higher levels. Main channel river temperatures had already climbed into the low 90s by late June, and the striped bass began to hunker down in any cool water refuge they could find, not bothering to eat.
According to Scott Lamprecht, DNR Freshwater Fisheries Region 4 coordinator, weight loss makes the fish susceptible to factors that can result in death.
“As the fish lose weight, they become more vulnerable to parasites and disease, which gradually take their toll,” Lamprecht said. “This results in low-level or chronic mortality.”
Biologists expect this to be an issue the rest of the summer as weakened fish succumb to stress and disease and, unfortunately, nothing can be done to alter the current conditions.
“It is not a water quality issue and nothing has changed in terms of fish consumption advisories for the Lower Santee River,” Lamprecht said. “There are no options for relieving the conditions that last fall’s flooding and this summer’s temperatures have produced.”