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North Carolina Department of Environment Quality

NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources
Marine Fisheries - Atlantic Croaker

Marine Fisheries

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ATLANTIC CROAKER, Micropogonias undulatus

8-point rule

croaker

Life History

Atlantic croaker (Micropogonias undulatus) inhabit mud and sand-bottom areas from the Gulf of Maine to Argentina, but are most abundant from the Chesapeake Bay to northern Florida. Atlantic croaker feed chiefly on crustaceans (shrimp and crabs), worms, shellfish and small fishes. Atlantic croaker has a lengthy spawning season with a peak during October in North Carolina. Eggs and recently hatched larvae spawned in ocean waters drift toward land. Later, the advanced larval stages and juveniles continue their migration inshore by actively swimming into estuarine nursery areas. Maximum recruitment (the number of fish entering the population) of juvenile fish is usually in the spring, with movement to offshore waters in the fall. Atlantic croaker grow quickly, reaching sizes of over 20 inches, and are generally mature by the end of their first year. While it is uncommon to see Atlantic croaker over age 10, the oldest observed specimen was 17.

Fisheries

In North Carolina, Atlantic croaker are targeted using several commercial gears including gill nets, trawls, and seines. Commercial harvest of Atlantic croaker in North Carolina ranged from 1.8 million pounds to 7.3 million pounds between 2007 and 2016, with the lowest landings occurring in 2015 (Figure 1). Landings have averaged 4.3 million pounds during this timeframe. In general, commercial harvest has decreased since 2007 but landings did increase slightly from 2013 to 2014 and from 2015 to 2016.

Figure 1

Atlantic croaker are targeted by shore based anglers and those fishing from private vessels during the summer and fall. Recreational harvest of Atlantic croaker in North Carolina ranged from 246,676 to 541,657 fish (99,298 to 227,949 pounds) between 2007 to 2016 and was estimated at 368,203 fish (141,571 pounds) in 2016 (Figure 2). Recreational harvest of Atlantic croaker in numbers has fluctuated little since 2007. The number of Atlantic croaker releases has generally increased since 2007 and has always been higher than the number harvested.

Figure 2

Management

In North Carolina, Atlantic croaker are included in the North Carolina Fishery Management Plan for Interjurisdictional Fisheries, which defers to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission Atlantic Croaker Interstate Fishery Management Plan for compliance requirements. The initial Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission plan was approved in 1987, and Amendment 1 was approved in November 2005. The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission approved Addendum I to Amendment 1 in 2011. The addendum changed the management unit to one region (New Jersey through the east coast of Florida) and modified the references used to determine the condition of the stock. In August 2014, the South Atlantic State/Federal Fisheries Management Board approved Addendum II to Amendment 1. Addendum II replaced the management triggers and established the Traffic Light Analysis (statistical method for evaluating trends in the fishery incorporating multiple data sources into a single metric) to serve as the new trigger. A benchmark stock assessment was completed in 2017 but did not pass peer review and will not be used for management.

Stock Status Overview

Stock status is based on data and results of the 2010 stock assessment, which determined that the population size and the rate that Atlantic croaker are removed from the population is not impacting the stock. Biomass has been increasing and the age-structure of the population has been expanding since the late 1980s, and it is unlikely the stock is in trouble. Population size status cannot be measured with confidence until the discards from the South Atlantic shrimp trawl fishery can be adequately estimated and incorporated into the stock assessment. To evaluate the status of the stock between assessments, the Traffic Light Analysis (statistical method for evaluating trends in the fishery incorporating multiple data sources into a single metric) is reviewed annually. Management triggers were not met in 2014 since both harvest and adult abundance did not meet thresholds. The Traffic Light Analysis has not been updated in recent years due to work on the stock assessment completed in 2017. The South Atlantic State/Federal Fisheries Management Board is scheduled to receive the updated Traffic Light results in August 2017.

In North Carolina, a juvenile abundance index for Atlantic croaker is obtained based on catch per unit effort or number of fish per tow, from the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries Pamlico Sound Trawl Survey. The index only includes the June survey data and fish less than 5 ½ inches to look at the young of year (age-0) fish. The juvenile abundance index from 2007 through 2016 has been variable ranging from 83 individuals per tow to 1,175 individuals per tow (Figure 3). There has been a decreasing trend since 2012. The 2016 index of 370 individuals per tow was below the 10 year average of 446 individuals per tow.

Figure 3

Research Needs

Research needs include development of fishery-dependent and independent size, age, and sex specific relative abundance estimates to monitor long term changes in Atlantic croaker abundance; improving catch and effort statistics from the commercial and recreational fisheries, along with size and age structure of the catch; and conducting stock identification research on Atlantic croaker via otolith (ear bone) microchemistry, tagging, or genetics.

Links

Management Agencies

North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries

Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission


Fishery Management Plans Amendments, Revisions and Supplements

Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission


Stock Assessment Reports

Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission


Contacts

For more information,
contact Daniel Zapf at Daniel.Zapf@ncdenr.gov
or 252-948-3875
croakers
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N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries • 3441 Arendell Street • Morehead City, NC 28557 • 252-726-7021 or 800-682-2632

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