Fish Post

Releases – June 8, 2017

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Coastal recreational fishermen hooked fewer fish in 2016 than they did in 2015.

Anglers brought an estimated 8.5 million fish to the docks in 2016, a decrease of 18 percent from 2015.

The estimated weight of these landings inched up, increasing by 2 percent to 12.2 million pounds. Anglers also released 1.5 percent more fish in 2016 than in 2015.

Fishermen took 16.2 percent more fishing trips in 2016 than they did in 2015. This trend continued even in the fall following Hurricane Matthew.

The 2016 top five recreationally harvested species, by pounds, were dolphin (2.8 million pounds), yellowfin tuna (2.3 million pounds), bluefish (862,558 pounds), spotted seatrout (688,682 pounds), and wahoo (640,807 pounds).

Yellowfin tuna harvest increased 145 percent from 2015. Anglers harvested 60,134 yellowfin tuna with a total weight of 2.3 million pounds. Bluefish harvests increased by 18 percent to 1.2 million fish (862,558 pounds), and wahoo harvests increased by 21 percent to 23,809 fish (640,807 pounds).

Landings for two of the top five species decreased significantly.

Anglers harvested 263,278 dolphin, with a total weight of 2.8 million pounds in 2016. That was a 39.4 percent decrease in the number of dolphin anglers brought to the docks. This dip in harvest may have resulted from the greater availability of yellowfin tuna and other offshore species, such as king mackerel, wahoo, and blackfin tuna.

Also, the number of cobia landed fell by 42.5 percent in 2016 to 9,288 fish (293,544 pounds).

In another notable change, estimated spotted seatrout harvests for 2016 increased by 342 percent over 2015, which were the lowest recreational spotted seatrout landings on record. Anglers brought 386,021 spotted seatrout (2.3 million pounds) to the docks in 2016.

Landings can fluctuate from year-to year based on many factors, including environmental conditions and fishing effort.

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.

For a full landings report, click on the 2016 Annual Fisheries Bulletin link at


A warm autumn kept commercial fishermen catching and selling shrimp up to New Year’s Eve last year, boosting 2016 shrimp landings to the highest since the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries’ Trip Ticket Program began in 1994.

But overall, the 60 million pounds of finfish and shellfish commercial fishermen caught and sold at the docks was a 9 percent decrease from 2015. The total estimated dockside value of $94 million was about $700,000 short of the 2015 value.

The 2016 landings were higher than the five-year average of 59 million pounds, and the five-year average value of $86 million.

The Trip Ticket Program collects commercial fishing landings statistics through legislatively-mandated reporting of all fisherman-to-dealer transactions.

As usual, hard blue crabs topped the list of species landed (24.7 million pounds), followed by shrimp (13.2 million pounds), spiny dogfish (2.3 million pounds), Atlantic croaker (2.1 million pounds), and summer flounder (2.1 million pounds).

Commercial shrimp landings in 2016 increased by 45 percent to 13.2 million pounds, which had an estimated dockside value of $28 million. Shrimp landings were good all year; fishermen exceeded 2015 monthly landings in every month of 2016, except June and July. In December, dealers purchased 1.7 million pounds of shrimp from fishermen, which was 341 percent more than was purchased in December 2015.

The increase in annual shrimp landings was accompanied by an 18.7 percent increase in overall shrimp fishing trips in 2016. Also, landings from state ocean waters north of Cape Hatteras greatly increased in 2016–nearly 11,000 percent over the previous year. Reports from dealers indicated an unusual abundance of shrimp in these northern, nearshore waters.

Landings of tilefish, spotted seatrout, squid, and black drum also increased.

However, landings of blue crabs dropped by 21 percent from 2015 landings, bringing it back in line with the five-year average of around 25.7 million pounds. Landings of hard blue crabs decreased by 20.4 percent, landings of soft blue crabs decreased by 25.1 percent, and landings of peeler blue crabs decreased by 36.9 percent.

While overall oyster landings increased 3.6 percent in 2016, the higher landings came from a 99 percent jump in landings from private leases. Public bottom landings dropped by 25 percent, possibly impacted by various environmental conditions leading to lower reproduction and growth over the past few years, as well as more shellfish water closures.

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 2016 Annual Fisheries Bulletin link at


The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries recently announced a controversial two-year pilot program for Gulf of Mexico red snapper management. Expected to begin in 2018, the program will allow 150 randomly-selected offshore anglers in the state access to 25,000 pounds of Gulf of Mexico red snapper. These anglers must agree to take part in a mandatory reporting program via smartphones in order to participate in the pilot program.

In response, the American Sportfishing Association (ASA), the trade association that represents the sportfishing industry, released the following statement from Mike Leonard, ASA’s Conservation director.

While ASA has long advocated for expanded consideration of angler-provided harvest data through new technology like smartphones, we are deeply concerned with the long-term ramifications of the pilot program that the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries unveiled on May 25, to the surprise of the entire recreational fishing community.

This pilot program is obviously the first step toward creating a harvest tag program for red snapper. ASA and several other organizations recently completed an extensive project working with anglers and industry members throughout the Gulf region to explore alternative management options for Gulf red snapper, including harvest tags.

While ASA is not opposed to harvest tags as a fisheries management tool under unique circumstances, among the many problems with applying this approach to Gulf red snapper is one of simple arithmetic. According to NOAA Fisheries, approximately 422,000 private recreational red snapper tags would be available Gulf-wide based on recent data.

While no accurate estimate currently exists for the total number of Gulf reef fish anglers, it’s extremely likely that there are more Gulf reef fish anglers than available tags. Therefore, if harvest tags were implemented Gulf-wide, anglers would probably be lucky to receive a single tag for the entire year.

While the 150 anglers who will be selected to participate in Louisiana’s pilot program will be gifted considerable access to red snapper, implementing a similar system on a larger scale would require significantly limiting either the number of tags available per angler or the number of participating anglers. Neither is a positive management outcome.

What is most unfortunate about this proposal is the secretive way it was developed and released by state officials. For a state that hails itself as a ‘Sportsman’s Paradise,’ we would hope the state would work with its recreational fishing community to cooperatively develop legitimate management approaches, and not attempt to force upon anglers a non-viable and controversial management approach that they strongly oppose.

More information about the Louisiana pilot program can be found at


The N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries is reminding fishermen that its Elizabeth City office has moved.

Those seeking to renew their licenses or otherwise transact business with the division in Elizabeth City should go to the new office at 105-A Impact Blvd., about one-half mile from the old location.

From the old office at 1367 U.S. 17 South, take U.S. 17 south to the next stoplight. Turn right onto Foreman Bundy Road, then take the first right onto Impact Boulevard. The new office is on the left.

Division staff in the Elizabeth City office may be reached by calling the office at (252) 264-3911 or (800) 338-7805.

The Elizabeth City office moved late last year after the old location closed for repairs.