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North Carolina Department of Environment Quality

NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources
Marine Fisheries - 33 Weakfish SSR 2016

Marine Fisheries

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Weakfish Gray Trout

Weakfish (Gray Trout) — 2016

Stock Status Depleted –The 2009 and 2016 weakfish stock assessment both indicated that the stock is over fished but overfishing is not occurring. The current estimate of spawning stock biomass (SSB) from the 2016 assessment was 5.62 million pounds, well below the 30% threshold of 15.17 million pounds used to classify the stock as viable. The 2016 stock assessment has been approved for management, but it is awaiting review by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) Weakfish Management Board to determine if changes are needed.

Average Commercial Landings and Value 2006–2015 – 143,361 lbs./$146,717

2015 Commercial Landings and Value - 80,235 lbs./$114,942

Average Recreational Landings 2006-2015 – 67,314 lbs., 2015 – 50,903 lbs.

Average Number of Citations (5 lbs./24 inches) 2006-2015 – 2, 2015 – 2 (2 kept, 0 released; Citation weight requirement increased from 4 lbs. to 5 lbs. and a 24 inch release category was added effective 2008)

Status of Fishery Management Plan (FMP) – In North Carolina weakfish are included in the Interjurisdictional FMP, which defers to Addendum IV to Amendment 4 to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission FMP compliance requirements. The ASMFC Weakfish Management Board is currently managing weakfish based off the 2009 assessment until they have a chance to meet in 2016 and decide if management measures and goals will change. The policy board identified five conclusions with regard to the 2009 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. 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.

2015 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

Maximum Age – 17 years

Juvenile Abundance Index (number of fish per tow) 2006-2015 – Pamlico Sound Survey (September) – 43.3, 2015 – 19.1

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.

For more information, contact Stephen J. Poland at Steve.Poland@ncdenr.gov or 252-808-8159.

N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries • 3441 Arendell Street • Morehead City, NC 28557 • 252-726-7021 or 800-682-2632

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