Posted by Doreen Higgins on Aug 28, 2017
Our member George Sedberry, who has had a distinguished career as a marine biologist, told us about a fish which was, until this week, largely unknown to most of us. It’s the “Wreckfish,” so called because it likes to frequent shipwrecks (and rock formations) which lie deep down on the ocean bottom.

George has a PhD from William and Mary College in marine biology. For many years he pursued a career at the Marine Resources Research Institute, Charleston, SC., and is now the Science Coordinator for the South-East, Gulf of Mexico, and Caribbean Region of the office of the National Marine Sanctuaries, NOAA. He has conducted marine research all over the world, including the Bahamas, Belize, Cuba, Azores, Madeira, the South Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean, Australia, and New Zealand.

The wreckfish, under good circumstances, lives about 80 years, is about 5 feet long, weighs around 100 lbs; it’s not very prepossessing to look at, but tastes delicious, and has been seen on our own clubhouse menus. The fish is to be found near oceanic islands which have steep rocky slopes; these slopes continue down into the ocean, offering the fish the deep rocky bottoms they prefer. So in Savannah, which does not have a coastline with steep rocky slopes, it is necessary to go more than a hundred miles offshore to find the preferred habitat for these fish. The fish is known, and harvested, all over the world wherever its favorite habitat is found, and George told us of its use, and misuse, in various locations. The issue is whether there is a management program in existence where the fish is harvested; if there is not, the stocks tend to be depleted, the fish small, and commercial viability poor. Further, the development of “long lines” for catching the fish, where a long length of fishing line with hooks all along its length is trailed in the water, made catching the fish easy and depletion of its population a near certainty.

George went on to tell us in some detail of the management, or lack of it, for harvesting this fish in many locales. For example, in Australia, Brazil, Majorca, and Madeira there is no management; in Bermuda, the fish has been harvested to extinction; in South Africa there is now management after a decline in stocks. In New Zealand, much of the catch is exported to Japan, and there is managed recreational fishing; in South Africa there is now management in place after a decline. Off the coasts of Georgia and South Carolina the catch has diminished since the 1980s.

The pattern of spawning is from December to April; one large female will produce 6.5 million eggs; the eggs and young float and drift with the tides. George told us that international management may become necessary, with rules similar to those now imposed in the US: quotas, that is, an annual limit, gear restrictions – no long lines, limited seasons, and closure during spawning season. We thanked George for a most interesting presentation of an unusual subject – and, perhaps, vowed to try the fish if we found it on a menu.