New book takes comprehensive look at state's fish
For someone well-versed on South Carolina’s 151 fish species, Joe Quattro admits that he has little time for recreational fishing.
But his loss is everyone else’s gain: the associate professor of biology was one of four authors who devoted some five years to create Freshwater Fishes of South Carolina, a new book published by USC Press. It’s the first comprehensive volume on the state’s fish population since before the Civil War.
“Our book is exhaustive: we used something like 250,000 location records.”
“There was a physician, J.E. Holbrook, who dabbled in natural science and wrote a book in the 1850s that attempted to catalog and describe the state’s fishes,” Quattro said. “Our book is exhaustive: we used something like 250,000 location records.”
Freshwater Fishes includes more than 350 photos, illustrations, maps, and charts that depict all of the state’s fish species and their range. The book also provides highly detailed descriptions of fish appearance and information on their habitats.
The book also includes state records for sport fish, as well as practical information for aquarists and others interested in collecting and studying native species.
Quattro, whose research focuses on using genetics to define fish population units, was most surprised by the number of non-native species in South Carolina’s rivers and lakes.
"Fifteen percent of the Santee River’s 110 species were introduced, and across the state 12 to 18 percent of fish species in any given habitat are introduced species,” he said. “I think it’s a reflection of how many dams we have and the corresponding amount of surface water. That attracts fishermen, and they’re the ones who typically introduce new species to a body of water.”
Overall, South Carolina has 28 families of fish.
In terms of species diversity, the Savannah River is tops with 113 species; the Edisto River has the fewest species with 87. Overall, the state has 28 families of fish including a few of the darter and minnow variety that might be familiar only to naturalists and the most diehard fishing enthusiasts.
While some species, such as striped bass, are being protected from overfishing, there have been no documented fish extinctions in South Carolina, Quattro said.
Fish species diversity in the United States is highest in the Mississippi River and second highest in the Southeast, Quattro said.
“We have all kinds of habitat in this state, from the Pee Dee to the Piedmont and the Lowcountry watersheds,” he said.
Quattro, who used to flyfish when he had more time, has fond memories of skipping school in his youth to fish with his dad. Those trips might have led the young Quattro to become a fish geneticist.
Freshwater Fishes in South Carolina is available through the University Press and in many bookstores.