A week after North Carolina closed down the harvest for sea trout along the Tarheel State’s coast, South Carolina’s DNR is urging anglers to voluntarily release all sea trout caught along the coast of the Palmetto State. 

The reason is because of cold stuns brought on by the extreme weather both states have experienced so far this year. Sea trout are very vulnerable to such extremes, and numerous fish kills in North Carolina waters pushed the state into issuing a proclamation to halt harvest of the species until this summer. This will give all surviving fish the chance to reproduce, hopefully keeping the trout population strong.

When temperatures drop below a certain point, sea trout that are present in inshore waters search for deep holes, which typically have the warmest water during winter. And while this strategy works for them much of the time, unfortunately it often fails in snowy weather because the fresh melting snow water is heavier than saltwater, so it sinks to the deepest holes where the trout are hiding out. So if they lived through the initial frigid weather, they now take another dangerous hit that is sometimes more than they can bear.

While the cold takes its toll on sea trout, the larger trout are slightly more hearty and less susceptible than the smaller ones. They also produce far more eggs annually, so releasing these “keeper fish” is a great benefit to the future of the fishery. An 11-inch trout lays around 3.2 million eggs each year, and an 18-inch trout lays about 17.6 million eggs in the same time period.

Some fish kills have also been reported along South Carolina’s coastline, but so far they seem manageable, although some anglers believe it’s bad enough that the state should step in and close down the fishery, rather than just ask the public to voluntarily release all trout. Some anglers believe once the water warms up a bit, fish kills will be more evident, as fish sometimes sink after death in extremely cold water.

Senator Stephen Goldfinch, who represents District 34 which includes the coastal counties of Charleston, Georgetown, and Horry Counties, said lawmakers have granted the SCDNR the authority to close the fishery, but said he believes asking anglers to help is a better approach, at least until the SCDNR has a better understanding of how badly the recent weather has impacted the fish.

If that happens, hopefully it won’t be too late.