Commercial, recreational fish landings down in 2017



Coastal recreational anglers caught and kept fewer fish last year than in 2017, likely due in part to bad weather days during prime fishing season that kept surf fishermen off the water, according to a news release from the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries.

The amount of fish and shellfish fishermen sold by commercial operators at North Carolina docks declined 9%  last year, due in large part to a drop in hard blue crab landings. But shrimp landings remained at a record high for the second straight year.

Coastal anglers caught and kept more than 5.5 million fish with an estimated total weight of 11 million pounds in North Carolina in 2017, according to estimates from the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries’ Coastal Angling Program. That was about 35.7 percent fewer fish (8.1 percent fewer pounds) than in 2016.

The decrease in landings correlates with a 16 percent reduction in the total number of fishing trips taken, including a 39 percent drop in the number of beach/bank fishing trips. The greatest decrease in fishing trips came during September and October, when Hurricane Jose and Hurricane Maria passed offshore.

Key species with decreased landings included bluefish (55.5 percent), Atlantic croaker (34 percent), dolphin (29 percent), kingfishes (36.6 percent), pinfish (36 percent), pigfish (67.5 percent), and puffers (52.6 percent). These species represented 56 percent of the overall drop by number.

On the other hand, increases in the number of fish landed were seen in some species, including red drum (63.4 percent), pompano (12 percent), and yellowfin tuna (42.3 percent).

The top five species landed in 2017 by number were: kingfishes (551,861), bluefish (524,072), spot (469,462), Spanish mackerel (439,654), and spotted seatrout (339,523).

 The top five species landed by weight were: yellowfin tuna (3 million pounds), dolphin (1.5 million pounds), bluefish (690,018 pounds), spotted seatrout (580,849 pounds), and wahoo (497,341 pounds).

The Division of Marine Fisheries estimates recreational fishing harvests through broad-based intercept surveys, where port agents talk to fishermen on the beach, at the piers and at boat ramps, and through mail surveys to license holders.

Commercial fishermen sold 54.4 million pounds of fish and shellfish to North Carolina seafood dealers in 2017, a 9.3 percent drop from 2016 and 7 percent lower than the previous five-year average. However, the $96.5 million estimated dockside value of the 2017 landings was 2.6 percent higher than the value of the landings in 2016, the DMF said.

Contributing to the decrease in overall landings was a fall in hard blue crab landings. Fishermen sold 18 million pounds of hard blue crabs at North Carolina docks in 2017, which was 26.9 percent lower than in 2016 and 25 percent lower than the previous five-year average. The estimated dockside value of hard blue crab landings dropped by 14.3 percent to $17.8 million.

Alternatively, fishermen landed 427,753 pounds of soft blue crabs in 2017, an increase of 50.2 percent over 2016 and 20.3 percent over the previous five-year average. Peeler blue crab landings increased by 74 percent over 2016 and 29.5 percent over the previous five-year average.

Hard blue crab remained the top marine fisheries species landed in North Carolina, followed by shrimp at 13.9 million pounds.

While shrimp landings increased by only 5 percent from 2016, they remained the highest since the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries’ Trip Ticket Program began in 1994, and were 34 percent higher than the five-year average.

Rounding out the top five species landed last year were summer flounder (1.6 million pounds), bluefish (1.5 million pounds) and southern flounder (1.4 million pounds).

While not in the top five, 2017 landings of black drum and red drum more than doubled from 2016 landings, which can be attributed to a strong year classes in previous years. A year class is fish in a stock that were born in the same year.

Landings of spiny dogfish, cobia and Atlantic croaker decreased in 2017.

The Division of Marine Fisheries’ Trip Ticket Program collects commercial fishing landings statistics through legislatively-mandated reporting of all fisherman to dealer transactions. Landings can fluctuate from year-to year based on many factors, including environmental conditions, market changes and fishing effort.

For a full landings report, click on the 2017 Annual Fisheries Bulletin link here.

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