February 14, 2013

Gregg Holshouser’s Outdoors Column | Algae plagues anglers

We're roughly a month away from the vernal equinox, the official start of spring, which falls on March 20. As the weather warms, more and more anglers will take to local estuaries for a little fishing.

We're roughly a month away from the vernal equinox, the official start of spring, which falls on March 20. As the weather warms, more and more anglers will take to local estuaries for a little fishing.

The anglers will be greeted by a real pest that proliferates during the winter in local waters, a green slime with a not-so-appealing nickname – snot grass.

The stuff is actually various types of macroalgae, and it easily sticks to, or wads up on, fishing tackle including sinkers, jigs, lures – even the bait and the fishing line itself. No flounder, red drum or trout is going to fall for a bait or lure engulfed in snot grass.

The most common types of macroalgae found in Grand Strand estuaries over the winter are enteromorpha and ulva, also known as sea lettuce, plus polysiphonia.

There seems to be a bigger volume of so-called snot grass this winter, and the big question for anglers is, how long are they going to have to put up with this mess?

Dr. Erik Sotka, Associate Professor of Biology at the College of Charleston and noted algae expert, weighed in on the subject.

“Polysiphonia and ulva will bloom after the fishes and crabs stop feeding, usually by January,” Sotka said. “They will start to disappear by spring, when the waters get warm enough for feeding to increase.”

The bothersome algae can be found in estuaries along the entire South Carolina coast, but locally seem to do better in inlets such as Murrells Inlet and those in the Pawleys Island-Litchfield area which have very little freshwater influx.

“You can find it in every estuary,” Sotka said. “It may be high salinity and light-levels that facilitate its growth. Other factors include the amount of hard substrate available.”

Dean Cain, biologist for the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, works out of the Samworth WMA office and has his finger on the pulse of what is happening in the estuaries of Georgetown County.

“I've seen it everywhere, in Murrells Inlet, North Inlet, even the Santees,” Cain said. “Fishermen are asking about it and complaining about it. I think for sure [it's worse this year than most years].”

Notably missing from Cain's observations was Winyah Bay, which has a tremendous freshwater influx from numerous rivers including the Waccamaw, Black and Sampit flowing into it.

“I know [the algae] thrives well in good, clear saltwater,” Cain said. “If you get freshwater [in the estuaries] it will turn brown and die off. We haven't had that much rain and I think that may be one of the reasons we've had it so much.”

Sotka and Cain agree that as spring becomes more entrenched, the algae will dissipate. Anecdotal local knowledge says when the water temperature rises to around 65 degrees, the slimy stuff will be gone.

Until that happens, in about late March or early April, anglers will just have to deal with it.

Two types of non-native algae, polysiphonia and gracilaria, can also be found but proliferate later in the spring as the water is warming.

In recent years these non-native algae, especially gracilaria, have plagued shrimp boats in the southern areas of the South Carolina coast, appearing in large enough amounts to clog the shrimpers' nets and affecting the harvest.

SAFMC seeks input

The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council is seeking public comment on proposed management measures for vermilion snapper and red porgy.

Stock assessment updates were recently completed for both species, showing overfishing for vermilion snapper has ended and allowing for an increase in the Annual Catch Limit (ACL) for the species.

The increase may allow for a removal of the current recreational seasonal closure (November 1 through March 31) as well as other measures for both commercial and recreational fisheries.

While red porgy is not undergoing overfishing, the assessment update concluded the stock is still overfished and reductions in the ACL are necessary.

The SAFMC is scheduled to approve Snapper Grouper Regulatory Amendment 18, which includes management actions for both vermilion snapper and red porgy, during its March 4-8, 2013 meeting in St. Simons Island, Ga.

The public is urged to send comments to the SAFMC on the two species by e-mail SGRegAm18Comments@safmc.net; fax 843-769-4520 or mail to SAFMC, 4055 Faber Place Drive, Suite 201, N. Charleston, S.C. 29405.

Public comment will also be accepted at the upcoming Council meeting to be held in St. Simons Island, Ga. A public comment session will be held on March 8 at 8:45 a.m.

Seacoast Anglers Association

The club will meet Monday, 6:30 p.m., at VFW Post 10804, located at Hwy. 57 and Hwy. 9 in Little River. Guest speaker is Steve Clemans, owner of Gone Fishing US Inc.

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