skip to main content | skip to footer
North Carolina Department of Environment Quality

NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources
Marine Fisheries - Spotted Seatrout

Marine Fisheries

Web Content Display Web Content Display

SPOTTED SEATROUT, Cynoscion nebulosus

8-point rule

Spotted seatrout

Life History

Spotted seatrout (Cynoscion nebulosus) range from Massachusetts to southern Florida and the Bahamas on the U.S. Atlantic Coast and continue through the Gulf of Mexico to the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico. They inhabit shallow coastal and estuarine waters throughout their range and are considered a euryhaline species (tolerant of a wide range of salinities). In North Carolina, the current state record was recorded at 12.3 pounds in 1961. The maximum reported age of spotted seatrout is 9 years in North Carolina for both male and female fish. Most spotted seatrout in North Carolina are mature by age 1 and 7.9 inches for males and 9.6 inches for females. All males are mature at 12 inches and females at 15 inches. Spawning in North Carolina occurs from April to October with peak spawn around May. Spawning occurs within the first few hours after sunset and a single fish is capable of spawning multiple times (batch spawners) throughout the season. In Florida, it has been observed that during peak spawning, spotted seatrout older than 3 years old may spawn every two days while younger fish may spawn as frequently as every four days. Estimates of the number of eggs a female can produce in a year from the Southeast and Gulf Coasts vary, based on size and age and range, from 3 million to 20 million per year.

Fisheries

Spotted seatrout are targeted by recreational and commercial fishermen throughout their range. In North Carolina, commercial fishermen land spotted seatrout using many different gears with estuarine gill nets (including runaround gill nets), long haul seines, beach seines and ocean gill nets the most common. Traditionally, the species has mostly been harvested as by-catch in other fisheries targeting Atlantic croaker, spot, striped mullet, or southern flounder, but a directed fishery using runaround gill nets occurs in the fall and winter months when spotted seatrout are abundant. Spotted seatrout are harvested throughout the year with two peaks in landings: October through February and April through May. Total commercial landings fluctuate from year to year, and in the past 10 years have ranged from a low of 75,000 pounds in 2011 to a high of 375,000 pounds in 2007 (Figure 1).

Figure 1

Spotted seatrout is one of the most targeted recreational fish species in North Carolina. It is also the top ranked targeted species in the entire South Atlantic Region of the United States. The recreational harvest of spotted seatrout typically doubles or triples the commercial harvest annually. Fishermen usually target spotted seatrout with hook and line gear using a variety of natural and artificial baits. Additionally, some spotted seatrout are landed by Recreational Commercial Gear License holders using gill nets. Fishing effort occurs all year in the recreational fishery with the majority of the landings coming from September through December when the fish have moved into coastal and inland creeks and rivers. Fishermen in North Carolina harvest, on average, 375,000 spotted seatrout a year, second only to Florida (Figure 2). Releases of spotted seatrout most years are at least double the number of fish kept.

Figure 2

Management

The North Carolina Marine Fisheries Commission currently manages the spotted seatrout fishery under the Spotted Seatrout Fishery Management Plan, adopted in 2012, and Supplement A to the Spotted Seatrout Fishery Management Plan, adopted in 2014. Management measures adopted in 2014 include a 14 inch total length minimum size limit for commercial and recreational fishermen, a four fish per person per day bag limit for recreational fishermen, and a 75 fish trip limit for commercial fishermen. The objectives of the fishery management plan and the supplement are to reduce fishing mortality to a level that maintains a 20 percent spawning potential ratio (the reproductive potential of a fished stock compared to its unfished level) to increase the likelihood of the stock replenishing itself after years of high mortality. This is a conservative approach which should provide a greater cushion for the population and lead to a quicker recovery in case a natural mortality event, such as a cold stun, causes depletion of the stock.

Spotted seatrout is also covered under the North Carolina Interjurisdictional Fishery Management Plan which ensures that the state is complying with all federal and council fishery management plans. The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission manages spotted seatrout as an interjurisdictional species and requires that the member states adopt regulations that meet its management measures. The Atlantic States Fishery Management Plan requires that all states set at least a 12 inch minimum size limit for spotted seatrout.

Stock Status Overview

A stock assessment was completed on spotted seatrout in North Carolina and Virginia in 2014 and indicated that the stock was at viable levels and removals from fishing were considered sustainable for the long term benefit of the stock. The assessment estimated that the spawning stock biomass (the weight of mature females in the stock) during the final year of the assessment (2012) was more than 2.5 million pounds. A management target/threshold of 870,000 pounds was also set based on the spawning potential ratio (the reproductive potential of a fished stock compared to its unfished level) of 20 and 30 percent. If the spawning stock biomass of spotted seatrout falls below these levels, management measures will be considered to reduce harvest and rebuild the stock.

The North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries uses numerous surveys to monitor the spotted seatrout stock and to collect data useful for future stock assessments. A juvenile index for spotted seatrout is calculated each year from the North Carolina Estuarine Juvenile Trawl Survey and serves as an indicator of juvenile abundance in the state. Results from the survey typically track well with years following a cold stun and can give an indication of the recovery. The catch per unit effort (average number of fish per tow) for the 2016 sampling year was the lowest recorded in the past ten years (Figure 3).

Figure 3

Research Needs

Use tagging data to estimate mortality of spotted seatrout and evaluate stock mixing, investigate and update the available data on reproductive potential of the species, better estimate cold stuns and their effect on the population, increase sampling of spawning areas, and collect discard information from the recreational fishery.

Links

Management Agencies

North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries

Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission

Fishery Management Plans Amendments, Revisions and Supplements

North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries

Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission

Stock Assessment Reports

North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries

Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission

Contacts

For more information,
contact Steve Poland at Steve.Poland@ncdenr.gov
or 252-808-8159
Spotted seatrout
Print
Web Content Display Web Content Display
N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries • 3441 Arendell Street • Morehead City, NC 28557 • 252-726-7021 or 800-682-2632

NC logo

38337 FEEDBACK

Your input is valuable to us. Please send us your feedback.

What type of feedback would you like to send?*

Ask a Question Report a Problem Have a Concern Make a Comment

(If you would like us to respond please include your phone or e-mail.)

Your Question has been sent. Thank you!

An internal server error prevented Your Question from being sent.
Please try again later, or call Toll-Free (877) 623-6748 for immediate assistance.

Please complete all highlighted items

Your Problem has been sent. Thank you!

An internal server error prevented Your Question from being sent.
Please try again later, or call Toll-Free (877) 623-6748 for immediate assistance.

Please complete all highlighted items

Your Concern has been sent. Thank you!

An internal server error prevented Your Question from being sent.
Please try again later, or call Toll-Free (877) 623-6748 for immediate assistance.

Please complete all highlighted items

Your Comment has been sent. Thank you!

An internal server error prevented Your Question from being sent.
Please try again later, or call Toll-Free (877) 623-6748 for immediate assistance.

Please complete all highlighted items

*If you are a DENR employee with an I.T. issue, please submit a DOTS ticket.