Guy Harvey Logo
Open Blue Sharks


David Rainer

Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

This has been a particularly productive year for anglers who target redfish along the Alabama Gulf Coast, and the Alabama Marine Resources Division is doing its best to ensure it stays that way.

When the Claude Peteet Mariculture Center in Gulf Shores was rebuilt from the ground up a couple of years ago, the first project for the included hatchery was to put it through a shakedown phase with one of the most popular species for inshore anglers. The red drum (redfish) is a species that is easily spawned in hatchery settings and can handle the rigors of being transported and released into the wild.

The results of that effort are now being realized with the release of redfish fry into backwater estuaries, where the baby redfish can thrive in a protected area and then move into the general species population when they become large enough to fend for themselves.

The largest release of redfish fry to date occurred earlier this week when almost 18,000 fry from an inch to an inch-and-a-quarter were released into the marsh that is connected to Little Lagoon in Gulf Shores.

We’ve been releasing redfish fry since we opened the hatchery two years ago,” said Chris Blankenship, Director of the Alabama Marine Resources Division (MRD). “We are also working to spawn Florida pompano and flounder for restocking efforts.”

“We’ve been releasing red drum fry at different locations around coastal Alabama, such as the Bon Secour River and Weeks Bay. This particular batch added 18,000 red drum into the marsh off of Little Lagoon. With it being the fall, this will give them a good chance to stay in the marsh grass and grow throughout the winter. After they overwinter here in the marsh, they can move into Little Lagoon and then go out the pass (Little Lagoon Pass on West Beach Road) into the Gulf of Mexico when they are ready.”

The excellent fishing for recreational anglers also translates into the easier capture of brood stock for the MRD hatchery.

“We’ve had a very good year for red drum from the Dog River area through Grand Bay and the Mississippi Sound, all the way through the Eastern Shore,” Blankenship said. “We’ve seen a lot of legal redfish in the (16 to 26 inches) slot. It’s been a really good year. I’m hoping that releasing fry like this will continue to build that fishery and continue the restocking efforts on the Gulf Coast.

“The good fishing also allows us to add new fish to the brood stock to change up the genetics a little bit. The brood stock will be overwintered in our tanks and they will be spawning all winter long. Then their fry will be released in the spring.”

Josh Neese, the hatchery manager at Claude Peteet Mariculture Center, said red drum was chosen as the initial hatchery species because of significant research done on the species and the success in spawning programs.

“This is a Sport Fish Restoration project,” Neese said. “Basically, we started off with red drum because it is a hardy species. We used them for the prototype, or guinea pig, for while we were ‘kicking the tires’ of the facility and testing parameters and how we need to operate the facility.