Waddell Mariculture Center

July 27, 2023

The Waddell Mariculture Center in Bluffton is a saltwater fish hatchery that is a part of the Marine Resources Division of the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.

The center opened in 1984 and initially worked on the development of practices and technology for the commercial production of shrimp. Currently the Mariculture Research section at WMC focuses on a Stock Enhancement Research Program that produces marine finfish that are recreationally important in South Carolina, such as red drum and cobia.

In this system adult fish reproduce, or spawn, in hatchery tanks; two days after fish larvae hatch from eggs, they are stocked into outdoor ponds. After approximately 30 days juvenile fish reach about 2-4 inches in length and can be harvested from ponds and then released into the wild.

In 2022 WMC released more than 36,000 cobia into Port Royal Sound to help preserve the genetically distinct population that spawns in that estuary. This year it has already released about 16,000 juvenile cobia.

Red drum are stocked along the South Carolina coast in various estuaries, and in 2022 the WMC released more than two million juveniles. Thanks to the work of its genetics research section, Waddell Mariculture Center can annually rotate parent fish from different genetic “families.”

These defined family units allow WMC to determine whether a fish it catches is stocked or wild by obtaining and analyzing a small piece of fin tissue. The SCDNR Inshore Fisheries section collects red drum samples in trammel net, electrofishing, trawl and longline surveys that are used to track long-term abundance trends of estuarine species.

The Waddell Mariculture Center collects samples of cobia through the cooperation of recreational anglers and charter captains. These combined efforts of releasing fish, tracking long-term abundances and identifying stocked fish in the wild help to inform fishery biologists about population trends and how to best manage our recreational fish species.