Hello, and welcome to South Carolina Natural Resources, a blog created and maintained by the staff of the S.C. Department of Natural Resource’s Office of Media and Outreach.

Over the coming months, we hope to bring to our readers a lively daily discussion on topics related to natural resources conservation, hunting and fishing, outdoor recreation and tourism, SCDNR projects and initiatives, and other news and information that will be of value to our state’s sporting and conservation communities. It’s just one more way the SCDNR is working to fulfill its mission as the primary steward of and advocate for our state’s amazing natural resources.

Whether you are lucky enough to be a Sandlapper by birth, or are one of the many thousands of folks who have “voted with their feet” to make South Carolina their adopted home, you know without a doubt that this is one special place. With the responsibility for managing more than 1 million acres of wild public lands (and counting), the SCDNR has a huge responsibility to the present and future citizens of this state. And we know that it is the sportsmen and women, the hunters and anglers, and the other individuals who love spending time in the outdoors, who make wildlife and natural resources in this state and in the United States work. Without the funding provided through hunting and fishing licenses and permits and the excise taxes paid on outdoor sporting goods equipment, firearms and ammunition, as well as the working partnerships with landowners and sportsman’s groups, our amazing conservation efforts would be a fraction of what they are today. So for that we say, “thanks,” and please come back and visit often to find out what your state Department of Natural Resources and the larger outdoor community in South Carolina are up to.  We value your input, so if you have ideas for topics you’d like to see covered here, please contact site administrator David Lucas at lucasd@dnr.sc.gov. We look forward to hearing from you.

A Fine Kettle of Fish

A Fine Kettle of Fish

The ponds at the SCDNR's Cohen  Campbell Fisheries Center outside Columbia (as well as those at other SCDNR hatcheries) produce millions of fingerlings each year that are stocked in lakes and rivers around the state.

The ponds at the SCDNR's Cohen  Campbell Fisheries Center outside Columbia (as well as those at other SCDNR hatcheries) produce millions of fingerlings each year that are stocked in lakes and rivers around the state.

At sunrise on a recent chilly January morning, the mist coming off the ponds at the SCDNR’s Cohen Campbell Fisheries Center created some neat photo ops, which made the pre-dawn drive from the Lowcountry totally worth it. I was at CCFC before daylight to meet up with SCDNR Hatchery & State Lakes Program Coordinator Leo Rose, Hatchery Manager Lane Hite, Assistant Hatchery Manager Brian Boyleston and a group of SCDNR fisheries technicians from CCFC and other hatcheries around the state to do something great – harvest two ponds-worth of redbreast fingerlings, fish that will, hopefully, eventually end up dangling from the business end of some lucky anglers’ beetlespin- or cricket-tipped fishing rig.

Hatchery Manager Lane Hite prepares for a long day of harvesting fry from two ponds at Cohen Campbell Fisheries Center. Hite's detailed knowledge of all aspects of the fish hatcheries operations are a big part of the facility's formula for success.

Hatchery Manager Lane Hite prepares for a long day of harvesting fry from two ponds at Cohen Campbell Fisheries Center. Hite's detailed knowledge of all aspects of the fish hatcheries operations are a big part of the facility's formula for success.

Assistant Hatchery Manager Brian Boyleston (right) Hatchery Program Coordinator  Leo Rose (center) and  technician Mitch Manis use a seine net to corral thousands of fingerlings in the pond's "kettle,"

Assistant Hatchery Manager Brian Boyleston (right) Hatchery Program Coordinator  Leo Rose (center) and  technician Mitch Manis use a seine net to corral thousands of fingerlings in the pond's "kettle,"

Crew members carry the buckets to the top of the dam by hand.

Crew members carry the buckets to the top of the dam by hand.

A group effort: Will Langford, an SCDNR technician at Springs Steven Hatchery, and Lily O'Dea, a technician at the agency's Eastover research facility, traveled to CCFC to help staff there with the harvest.

A group effort: Will Langford, an SCDNR technician at Springs Steven Hatchery, and Lily O'Dea, a technician at the agency's Eastover research facility, traveled to CCFC to help staff there with the harvest.

Redbreast Love

There are striped bass, which are awesome and powerful; there are largemouth bass, probably the most-pursued of all our freshwater gamefish; wily trout in mountain streams, the frigid waters of Lake Jocassee and the tailwaters of deep impoundments in the Piedmont and Midlands; not to mention a wide variety of other panfish; but somehow, for me, the brightly colored redbreast outshines them all.  Maybe it’s because, having grown up in spitting distance of the North Fork of the Edisto, I’m just a sucker for the beauty of the narrow, blackwater streams where these flashy members of the sunfish family thrive. Whatever the reason, they are a joy to catch and behold, and even more-so to eat, breaded in cornmeal and deep-fried, of course, with copious amounts of canned pork & beans, tart coleslaw and slices of “light bread” at the ready for the occasional bone.  Camped on a sandbar in a bend of the river after a daylong paddle and a refreshing swim in the middle of a blazing hot summer day if you can manage it. Now friends, that’s my idea of heaven!

This larger redbreast won't be stocked in the Little Pee Dee. Instead, it will overwinter in a tank at CCFC and be used for brood stock to create more hatchery-reared fish in the spring. As it matures, this fish's underbelly will take on the deep red coloration that is the most identifiable characteristic of the species.

This larger redbreast won't be stocked in the Little Pee Dee. Instead, it will overwinter in a tank at CCFC and be used for brood stock to create more hatchery-reared fish in the spring. As it matures, this fish's underbelly will take on the deep red coloration that is the most identifiable characteristic of the species.

So, among the among the goals of the hardworking scientists and technicians employed in the SCDNR’s Fisheries Section is helping to make that heavenly dream a reality for more anglers by providing an assist to Mother Nature via the agency’s fish hatchery program, which you can read more about here: http://hatcheries.dnr.sc.gov/. Briefly, there are six SCDNR-managed fish hatcheries spread out across the Palmetto State, and they raise a wide assortment of the aforementioned bass, sunfish and trout, as well as catfish and some other species, with the goal of meeting the fishery management objectives laid out by the agency’s senior fisheries managers and researchers.  Or, in less long-winded prose – to help us all catch more fish!

Jacks (and Jills) of all Trades

Watching this crew at work is a privilege, and a master-class in ‘Git ‘er Done’-style practical applied science. Equal parts biology and engineering, the task of moving several hundred THOUSAND redbreast fingerlings from ponds into tanks where they can be sorted and counted before being loaded onto trucks bound for their final destination is a tough one.  It involves a not inconsiderable amount of scientific know-how, but also a big helping of good old-fashioned manual labor, and with the sun easing over the tree-line, the crew gets right into it, forming a brigade line up the concrete steps at the base of the pond’s dam and passing five-gallon bucket after five-gallon bucket of fish up to the waiting trucks.

The steps lead down to a catch-basin at the base of the pond dam. The basin is called a “kettle,” Hite explains, and the particular style of kettle at some of the newer ponds at CCFC is a "Kansas  kettle," an improved design that makes harvesting the fish somewhat. easier.  Rose, Boyleston and Mitch Manis use specially-designed flaps and a seine net to corral the swiftly darting fingerlings in the "kettle" and transfer them to the buckets, while the rest of the crews carries them up to a waiting truck, fire-brigade-style. Then it’s on to the “fish house,” where the fingerlings are transferred from mobile truck tanks into stationary tanks refreshed by a constant flow of fresh water from the deep wells that feed the hatchery.  The fish house itself is kind of an amazing place; the spare parts, pipe, valves and various tools in the main room let you know right away that the folks who work here – while they are indeed scientists in every sense of the word – aren’t nerdy guys and gals in pristine white lab coats. This is an endeavor that also requires practical skills such as carpentry, plumbing and electrical work to make it all go.

Hatchery Manager Lane Hite and Assistant Manager Brian Boyleston use scales to get an accurate weight count on a bucket of fingerlings.

Hatchery Manager Lane Hite and Assistant Manager Brian Boyleston use scales to get an accurate weight count on a bucket of fingerlings.

Hatchery Manager Lane Hite hands a measured cup of salt up to technician Lowell Hook to add to the tank that will be used to transport the redbreast fingerlings to the river. The salt helps stimulate the fish to produce the slime which protects their scales, Hite explained, some of which can be lost during the process of netting and grading . Hite's many years of experience at the hatchery will be a valuable resource for Hook, who was  just beginning his second week on the job at CCFC. 

Hatchery Manager Lane Hite hands a measured cup of salt up to technician Lowell Hook to add to the tank that will be used to transport the redbreast fingerlings to the river. The salt helps stimulate the fish to produce the slime which protects their scales, Hite explained, some of which can be lost during the process of netting and grading . Hite's many years of experience at the hatchery will be a valuable resource for Hook, who was  just beginning his second week on the job at CCFC. 

Tools of the trade: Thousands of feet of PVC pipe and dozens of valves and pumps are needed to make the infrastructure at CCFC function. Technicians at the facility must have a broad range of mechanical, scientific and practical know-how to keep it all humming.

Tools of the trade: Thousands of feet of PVC pipe and dozens of valves and pumps are needed to make the infrastructure at CCFC function. Technicians at the facility must have a broad range of mechanical, scientific and practical know-how to keep it all humming.

Fisheries research in 2017 can be very high tech, but some methods haven't changed, and it's hard to beat a pencil and waterproof yellow notebook for data collection in wet conditions.

Fisheries research in 2017 can be very high tech, but some methods haven't changed, and it's hard to beat a pencil and waterproof yellow notebook for data collection in wet conditions.

In the fish house, the fingerlings are sorted by size into tanks using nets with different mesh sizes. The brood fish that produce the fingerlings spawn every few weeks from spring til autumn, Rose explains, so the larger fingerlings – as long as three inches and already beginning to develop that distinctive bright belly – are ones that spawned early in the year, while the smaller ones are the more recently spawned ones.  The fish are separated by size so an accurate count of just how many will be transported can be estimated. Buckets with a precise amount of water in them are filled with fish, weighed, and the fish counted.  From this, a pretty accurate number of fish-per-pound can be extrapolated, and weighing each subsequent bucket gives you a grand total. Boyleston and Rose take turns recording the numbers from each bucket in a yellow, waterproof notebook.  The numbers will later be added to the data kept for the hatchery’s total numbers for the year. When all is said and done, an estimated 214,000 fingerlings will be loaded into specially-designed and built tank trucks (there’s that practical engineering at work again).

Rose weighs out a bucket of fingerlings and calls out the numbers to Brian Boyleston, who records the data.

Rose weighs out a bucket of fingerlings and calls out the numbers to Brian Boyleston, who records the data.

Technician Boykin Gaskins fromn the SCDNR's Cheraw Hatchery carefully counts the number of fingerlings in a five gallon bucket before adding them to a holding tank.

Technician Boykin Gaskins fromn the SCDNR's Cheraw Hatchery carefully counts the number of fingerlings in a five gallon bucket before adding them to a holding tank.

River Bound!

In this case, the fish are bound for the Little Pee Dee River. A few hundred of the larger fish pulled from the ponds, along with the mature fish that were this year’s brood stock, are held back and will overwinter at the hatchery — ready for spawning when springtime rolls around next year.  It seems like a tremendous amount of fish, but it’s really a small amount compared to the millions of spawn produced in the river naturally each year. Every little bit helps though, particularly in years where drought or other factors might hamper natural reproduction. It’s also just a portion of the annual goal for the Little Pee Dee system of up to a million stocked redbreast (more were released earlier in the year). Redbreast are also released into other blackwater systems in the coastal plain such as the Edisto. And that’s an SCDNR Fisheries Section program that anglers — not to mention numerous businesses that depend on fishing, outdoor recreation and tourism for their livelihood – are sure to appreciate. 

Boykin Gaskins waves goodbye as he leaves CCFC with a full load of redbreast frythat will be released at several points on the Little Pee Dee River.

Boykin Gaskins waves goodbye as he leaves CCFC with a full load of redbreast frythat will be released at several points on the Little Pee Dee River.

Nothing Lasts . . .

Nothing Lasts . . .

The Best of the Best

The Best of the Best