The striped bass, also known as rockfish or striper, is considered one of the finest gamefish on the Atlantic coast. They range from Florida to Canada and can live approximately 30 years. The South Carolina state record is a hefty 63 pounds, while the official world record is nearly 82 pounds. The species was named as the official state fish in 1972 and may be found in every South Carolina river system and in several of the state’s large reservoirs.
Striped bass are river resident fish in South Carolina, meaning they reside within the river throughout their entire life. They migrate within the river for feeding, spawning and to locate preferred water temperatures and habitat. Females ascend the rivers and spawn annually, usually in April-May, after reaching maturity at around age six when the fish is typically 26 inches. A mature female is capable of producing as many as three million eggs, which hatch approximately two days after spawning.
In South Carolina, it was discovered that the original 1943 Santee River diversion project had dam-locked a population of striped bass in Lakes Marion and Moultrie. The fish required a food source in order to survive so Santee Cooper started opening their Pinopolis Lock on the Cooper River to allow migrating American shad and blueback herring to enter the lakes. The locking operations bolstered the striper population, which thrives today. When the Charleston District opened the Cooper River Rediversion Project at St. Stephen in 1985, it included a fishlift that passes approximately 750,000 fish annually, including hundreds of striped bass, upstream into the lakes to spawn.
In the mid- to late-1960s, other states wanted to duplicate South Carolina’s very successful dam-locked populations in their own reservoirs. This required what is known as captive propagation, which is spawning and raising fish in tanks or ponds. Nearly all of the science behind captive propagation of striped bass was accomplished by pioneering South Carolina Department of Natural Resources biologists at the Moncks Corner Striped Bass Hatchery that was once located on the tailrace of the Cooper River. Now, all striped bass larvae production activities within the state occur on the CRRP property at the Jack D. Bayless Hatchery along the Rediversion Canal.
Many of the young striped bass are collected in the tailrace and intake canals of the CRRP during early spring. The female fish are normally still about two weeks from spawning naturally, so biologists inject females with a hormone to promote egg development. After the eggs have been produced and placed in specialized hatching jars, young hatchlings will swim up and out of the jars into larger tanks. At approximately five days old, they are transported to various hatcheries around the state to grow in rearing ponds. After about a month, the stripers have grown enough to be released into natural bodies of water. In an average year, more than four million young striped bass are released into South Carolina waters.
The general public is invited to visit the Cooper River Rediversion Project to take a tour of the Jack D. Bayless Hatchery and the CRRP Visitor Center next year during the spring spawning season (March 15th – April 15th). Biologists explain the process of fish propagation and visitors usually can see fish in tanks preparing to spawn and/or eggs waiting to hatch. In the CRRP Visitor Center, guests can witness one of nature’s wonders through the viewing windows with mature fish moving through the fishlift on their spawning migrations.