Largemouth Bass Stocked into Northeast Cape Fear River

CASTLE HAYNE, NC – Fisheries biologists with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission recently stocked 134,000 largemouth bass fingerlings into the Northeast Cape Fear River to help jumpstart the fishery, which was decimated by Hurricane Florence in 2018. They will monitor the fingerlings over time using genetics to determine their contribution to the population as it recovers.

The stocking was part of a collaboration between the agency and members of the Wilmington-based Team Bassmasters Fishing Club, who approached Commission staff with an offer to help pay for the restoration effort, after electrofishing surveys conducted by agency biologists in 2019 determined that few juvenile or adult bass remained in the river.

Members held fundraisers and provided the agency with $4,000 in proceeds, which fisheries biologists used as a three-to-one match with federal dollars to get the effort underway. Biologists collected adult broodfish this spring and transported them to Watha State Fish Hatchery in Pender County, where Watha staff used them to produce the fingerlings.

When the fingerlings were approximately 1.5 inches long, biologists stocked them from boats into approximately 30 miles of river near Castle Hayne and Holly Shelter — areas that fishing club members had previously identified as ideal nursery habitat.

“This project started shortly after Hurricane Florence with many local anglers and fishing clubs trying to help at some capacity,” said Aaron Dennis, a member of the Team Bassmasters Fishing Club. “We’re just happy to have been able to contribute in this way, promoting the rebound of our local fisheries.”

Fisheries staff are using parentage-based tagging, a technique that uses genetic markers to identify whether a fish was born at the hatchery to understand better the results of Wednesday’s stocking. Results will help guide management actions after future hurricanes.

“The parentage-based tagging technique is pretty much identical to a paternity test, with basically 100% accuracy, no tag loss, and no tagging-induced mortality,” said Kyle Rachels, a fisheries biologist. “We know that fish we stock have the same genetic markers as the parent broodfish from the hatchery.

“As we sample bass in the Northeast Cape Fear River over the next few years, we can analyze the genetic material of each fish we collect and compare it to the broodfish originally used to produce the fingerlings. The technique is nonlethal, all we need from the fish in the field is a small fin clip.”

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