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

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

Marine Fisheries

Web Content Display Web Content Display

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. Most Atlantic croaker are mature by the end of their first year. While it is uncommon to see Atlantic croaker over age 10, the oldest observed fish 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 1.0 million pounds to 7.3 million pounds between 2008 and 2017, with the lowest landings occurring in 2017 (Figure 1). Landings have averaged 3.6 million pounds during this timeframe. In general, commercial harvest has been declining with consistently low landings in recent years.

Figure 1

Atlantic croaker are targeted recreationally 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 243,199 to 541,657 fish (85,473 to 227,949 pounds) between 2008 to 2017 and was estimated at 243,199 fish (141,571 pounds) in 2017 (Figure 2). Recreational harvest of Atlantic croaker in numbers has fluctuated little since 2008. The number of Atlantic croaker releases has generally increased since 2007 and has always been higher than the number harvested. Number of Atlantic croaker releases in 2017 was estimated at 1.3 million fish.

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 Interstate Fishery Management Plan for Atlantic croaker. Atlantic croaker are managed by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission in state territorial (0 to 3 miles from shore) and coastal waters along the Atlantic Coast from New Jersey to Florida. The initial Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission plan was approved in 1987, and Amendment 1 was approved in November 2005. Amendment 1 defined two Atlantic Coast management regions: the South- Atlantic region, including the states of Florida through South Carolina; and the mid-Atlantic region, including the states from North Carolina through New Jersey. The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission approved Addendum I to Amendment 1 to the plan in 2011. The addendum changed the management unit to one region (New Jersey through the east coast of Florida) and modified the reference points used to determine the condition of the stock. In August 2014, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s 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 Overview

  • Assessment: No
  • Terminal Year of Last Assessment: N/A
    • Overfishing: N/A
    • Overfished: N/A

A benchmark stock assessment for Atlantic croaker was completed in 2017 but was not accepted for management use by a peer review panel. However, the review panel did not identify any major problems in the Atlantic croaker fishery that would require immediate management action. Because there is not an approved stock assessment, the stock status for Atlantic croaker with relation to overfished or overfishing is unknown. To evaluate the status of the stock between assessments, the Traffic Light Analysis is reviewed annually. Management triggers were not met in 2016 since both harvest and adult abundance did not meet thresholds. The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s South Atlantic State/Federal Fisheries Management Board is scheduled to receive the updated Traffic Light Analysis and consider recommended revisions to the Traffic Light framework in August 2018.

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 zero) fish. The juvenile abundance index from 2008 through 2017 has been variable, ranging from 83 individuals per tow to 1,175 individuals per tow (Figure 3). The 2017 index of 1,172 individuals per tow was above the 10 year average of 552 individuals per tow, and the second highest value in the time series.

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
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.