Weakfish (Gray Trout) - 2013
Stock Status – Depleted – The most recent stock assessment for weakfish was completed in 2009 and indicates that weakfish are in an extremely depleted state. The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) Weakfish Management Board has accepted five conclusions with regard to the weakfish stock report for management purposes: 1) the stock is declining; 2) total mortality is increasing; 3) there is little evidence of overfishing; 4) something other than fishing mortality is causing the decline in the stock; and 5) there is a strong chance that regulating will not, in itself, reverse the decline. Commercial and recreational landings along the Atlantic coast have plummeted in recent years and are currently near record low levels.
Average Commercial Landings and Value 2003–2012 – 308,399 lbs./$243,978
2012 Commercial Landings and Value – 91,383 lbs./$111,461
Average Recreational Landings 2003–2012 – 110,449 lbs., 2012 – 46,078 lbs.
Average Number of Citations (5 lbs./24 inches^) 2003–2012 – 15, 2012 – 2
Status of Fisheries Management Plan (FMP) – In North Carolina weakfish are included in the Interjurisdictional FMP, which defers to ASMFC FMP compliance requirements. Weakfish are currently managed under Addendum IV to Amendment 4 to the ASMFC FMP, adopted in November 2009. Due to the depleted stock size, Addendum IV requires management measures aimed at aiding in any recovery of the weakfish stock. Addendum IV recognizes that natural mortality, rather than fishing mortality, appears to be the primary culprit in the current stock decline. As a result, the ASMFC Weakfish Management Board has implemented strict coastwide harvest limits that are intended to limit fishing pressure to aid in the recovery should conditions governing the high natural mortality subside.
Research and Data Needs – Studies to further understand the current influences in the stock decline. Stock identification studies are needed to determine coastal movements and the extent of stock mixing. Discard estimates from commercial gears. Studies to define spawning locations and habitat preferences are also needed.
Current Regulations – Commercial: 12 inches total length (TL) minimum size limit with a seasonal, 10 inches TL for estuarine pound-net and long haul seine fishery; all commercial harvest is limited to 100 pounds per day or trip, whichever is longer; Recreational: 12 inches TL minimum size limit/1– fish bag limit.
Harvest Season – Year round
Size and Age at Maturity – 7–8 inches TL/1 year
Historical and Current Maximum Age – 17 years/15 years
Juvenile Abundance Index 2003–2012 – 39.5, 2012 – 40.7
Habits and Habitats – Weakfish are estuarine–dependent members of the drum family that include Atlantic croaker, spot, red drum, black drum, and spotted seatrout. Weakfish migrate south and offshore during winter months and inshore and north during spring and summer. Weakfish spawn throughout the spring and summer and the larvae and juveniles are dependent on estuarine habitat as critical nursery areas. During winter, young–of–year move offshore into nearshore ocean waters to overwinter. Following their first winter, the one-year old fish move into the inlets and sounds to spawn for the first time.
^Citation weight requirement reduced from 6 lbs. to 5 lbs. and 24 inch release category added in 2008
For more information, contact Lee Paramore at Lee.Paramore@ncdenr.gov or 252-473-5734.