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May 21, 2010

Seasonal Santee Cooper striped bass closure begins June 1

Seasonal closure of the Santee Cooper System striped bass fishery is set to begin June 1 and will extend through Sept. 30. No striped bass may be harvested or possessed for any reason during the summer months. This closure, along with the open season bag limit of three fish per day and aStriped bass minimum size of 26 inches, was signed into law May 2008 to address the ailing striped bass fishery.

The Santee Cooper System is bordered upstream by the Lake Murray Dam on the Saluda, the Columbia Diversion Dam on the Broad River, and the Lake Wateree Dam on the Wateree River. The downstream boarders are the freshwater-saltwater dividing lines on the Santee and Cooper Rivers. This includes the Santee Cooper Lakes, all of their tributaries and outfall rivers or everything in between the ocean and first dams above the Santee Cooper Lakes.

The regulation changes, adopted by the General Assembly and signed into law by the governor, were based on recommendations from the Striped Bass Stakeholders Committee, organized by the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR) in fall 2007. It was composed of interested striped bass anglers that were nominated by legislators whose districts bordered the system. Committee members thoroughly examined all the available data and all the management options before making their recommendations.

While the 26-inch length limit is aimed at allowing female stripers to reach reproductive age, the summer closure is aimed at reducing the high rate of catch and release mortality that freshwater striped bass experience when water temperatures are high. This is not just a South Carolina phenomenon; it is an issue shaping striped bass regulations in reservoirs throughout the southeastern United States. Dedicated striped bass anglers are becoming aware that the comfort of watching a summer angled striper swim away is a false comfort and that more often than not, that fish dies within days because of the combined stress of angling and warm water.

So what is an ethical angler to do? Catch just what you are allowed to keep and quit fishing for stripers the rest of the day. In the warm water sections of the Santee Cooper System, don't deliberately fish for striped bass during the closed season. If you repeatedly hook stripers while fishing for other species, change your baits or your location. When you accidently catch a striper, minimize the time the fish is fought and handled. Try to keep the fish in the water while removing the hook and remember, "Tomorrow's Fishing is in Your Hands Today."

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