Gregg Holshouser’s Outdoors Column | Cobia joins ranks of other gamefish

There is an addition to the species of saltwater fish that are considered gamefish in South Carolina thanks to legislation approved by the S.C. General Assembly and signed by Gov. Nikki Haley in June.

Cobia join red drum, spotted seatrout, tarpon and billfish in being designated as saltwater gamefish by the Palmetto State.

Now, cobia that are caught in South Carolina state waters cannot be sold, meaning that only fish caught in federal waters (beyond three miles offshore) can be sold.

Cobia, a big, bruising, pelagic species, migrate up the coast and in from deep water in the spring and are most commonly caught in South Carolina waters in May and June.

The impetus for the bill seeking gamefish status for cobia comes from the inshore fishery for the species in estuaries in the southern coastal region of the state. During their spring migration, cobia move into Port Royal Sound and St. Helena Sound in the Beaufort and Hilton Head Island area and are greeted by an armada of fishermen.

The considerable fishing pressure on the species in that area annually in the spring caused Coastal Conservation Association South Carolina to push for legislation helping protect the inshore stock of cobia by outlawing the sale of fish caught in state waters.

“It means people who catch their [cobia] in South Carolina waters are not allowed to sell them,” said Wallace Jenkins, S.C. DNR Biologist. “Commercial fishermen in federal waters [beyond three miles offshore] are still allowed to sell them to licensed seafood dealers.”

The bill was sponsored by Sen. Greg Gregory, passed by the General Assembly on June 7 and signed by Haley on June 18.

The bill will have little impact in Horry and Georgetown counties since the huge majority of cobia caught by local anglers are boated in federal waters, although they are occasionally caught around area jetties and near-shore artificial reefs and bottom spots.

The cobia that move into the Port Royal and St. Helena Sound areas in the spring are on a spawning mission, all the more reason to protect fish caught in those estuaries.

“That inshore group of fish needs protection from commercial exploitation,” Jenkins said. “The spawning aggregation there appears to be significant and it’s also a different group of fish than the population of fish offshore.”

CCA South Carolina executive director Scott Whitaker is pleased cobia has been added to the list of recognized gamefish.

“Anglers today, more than any other time, are prepared to take reasonable action for the improved, sustainable management of our fisheries,” Whitaker said. “This step for cobia, in conjunction with the many other sound fisheries management actions taken by the state of South Carolina, will play a profound role in the future opportunities and enjoyment of our fisheries for years to come.”

The new gamefish status for cobia has no effect on bag and minimum size limits on the species for recreational or commercial anglers.

Tailwalker Offshore Challenge

The king mackerel tournament, staged by Tailwalker Marine of Georgetown, will be held out of Georgetown Landing Marina next weekend and is the second tournament in the Southern Kingfish Association’s Division 3.

The Captain’s Meeting is set for July 20 at 6:30 p.m. with fishing on the following day, July 21, from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Weigh-in follows at the marina from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Entry fee is $250 through Friday and then $300 afterward.

The largest king mackerel weighed in will earn $10,000 based on 150 boats entering the tournament.

While overall king fishing hasn’t exactly been on fire this spring and early summer, tournament director Stuart Ballard of Tailwalker Marine is optimistic.

“I see all the signs of fishing being good,” Ballard said. “You’re not hearing much about [king fishing] because people aren’t going very much just to be going. They’re fishing around the tournaments, leading up to the tournaments and during the tournaments.”

Ballard pointed to another SKA-sanctioned event – the Jolly Mon Classic out of Ocean Isle Beach – as proof the kings can be found when fishing conditions are good and tournament anglers are turned loose in search of them. In the Jolly Mon Classic, the top 10 kings weighed in topped the 30-pound mark.

“I expect a good catch of fish,” Ballard said.

For more information, call Tailwalker Marine at 527-2495 or Georgetown Landing Marina at 546-1776.

Governor’s Cup Billfishing Series

The fourth leg of the 2012 South Carolina Governor’s Cup Billfishing Series is underway with the MegaDock X Billfishing Tournament out of Charleston City Marina and will continue through Saturday.

The fifth and final tournament in the series is the Edisto Marina Billfish Tournament set for July 25-28.

Participation looks to be down for the MegaDock tournament with 38 boats entered at midweek compared to 48 in 2011.

S.C. DNR Rules & Regs

The new 2012-2013 edition of the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources’ Rules and Regulations can now be viewed online. The printed booklets will be available free to the public about mid-August at S.C. DNR regional offices and selected sporting goods retailers. Visit http://www.dnr.sc.gov/regulations.html to view the online version.