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North Carolina Department of Environment Quality

NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources
Marine Fisheries - Cobia

Marine Fisheries

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COBIA, Rachycentron canadum

8-point rule

Cobia

Life History

Cobia (Rachycentron canadum) is a fast growing and moderately lived (less than 10 years) fish that inhabits nearshore coastal waters from New York to Northern Mexico. They migrate in the spring and fall as water temperatures change from inshore and offshore habitats as well as up and down the coasts. Spawning occurs in the spring months around inlets and in high salinity estuarine waters. Larval fish settle in the estuaries along the southeast and mid-Atlantic coasts and utilize them as a nursery area. Cobia can grow to as large as 14 inches in their first year of life and move offshore as the water temperatures cool in the fall. Most cobia are mature by age 2 and at 31 inches in length. Females can spawn multiple times in a season (batch spawners) and can produce millions of eggs in a single year. Cobia can grow as large as 100 pounds but are typically encountered by fisherman in the 25 to 40 pound range. Feeding typically occurs on the bottom where they consume fish and crabs, but they have been known to consume prey as large as turtles. Cobia are structure oriented and can be found around channel markers, sea walls and jetties, and larger marine animals such as leather back turtles and rays.

Fisheries

The primary commercial gear used to harvest cobia has changed over time. Historically, cobia was mostly landed out of the haul seine fishery. With the adoption of the management measures from the first South Atlantic Fishery Management Council Fishery Management Plan in 1983, which established a 33 inch minimum size limit, the primary gear that landed cobia changed to the troll and handline gears which are more efficient at catching larger fish. In recent years, the primary gear in the commercial fishery has been the anchored large mesh gill net which can account for up to half of the total commercial landings in a given year. Because the possession limit is two fish for the commercial sector and it is considered a bycatch fishery, total landings tend to be consistent from year to year. Average landings over the past ten years are 35,000 pounds and typically range from 20,000 to 50,000 pounds (Figure 1).

Figure 1

Recreational fishing for cobia in North Carolina has become increasingly popular over the past 15 years. Historically, cobia were mostly targeted from an anchored vessel fishing natural baits on the bottom. However, in the past decade, more fisherman are outfitting their boats with towers to gain a higher vantage point and are actively searching for cobia on the surface. These fisherman tend to use artificial baits, like buck tails and swim baits, to cast directly at fish. Harvest from recreational fishermen is variable from year to year but typically exceeds the commercial harvest tenfold. The average recreational landings for cobia over the past 10 years is 285,000 pounds but has varied from a low of 82,000 pounds to a high of 695,000 pounds. This trend is also evident in the number of fish harvested and released from the fishery (Figure 2).

Figure 2

Management

Cobia is included in the North Carolina Fishery Management Plan for Interjurisdictional Fisheries, which defers to the Joint Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic Fishery Management Council’s fishery management plan for compliance requirements. The Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic Fishery Management Councils approved a Cobia Fishery Management Plan in 1983, and the species is currently managed under recent Amendment 20b. The goal of the fishery management plan is to maximize harvest from the stock while considering the biology of the species and ensuring regulations are fair and equitable and the fishery resources are used efficiently.

Amendment 20b to the Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic Fishery Management Councils fishery management plan established a stock boundary for the Atlantic group of cobia at the Florida-Georgia line and adjusted the annual catch limit to 670,000 pounds for the commercial and recreational fisheries. This annual catch limit was divided between the commercial and recreational sectors with the commercial limit set to 50,000 pounds and the recreational limit set to 620,000 pounds for states from Georgia through New York. This amendment also established accountability measures which require the National Marine Fisheries Service to take actions to reduce the harvest of cobia if the annual catch limits are exceeded, regardless of whether the harvest occurs in state waters or federal waters (ocean waters 3 to 200 miles).

Stock Status Overview

Cobia were last assessed in 2013 using data through 2011. Results of this assessment indicate that the cobia stock is at a healthy level and that removals due to fishing are not impacting the viability of the stock. However, spawning stock biomass (the total weight of mature females within a population of fish) was in decline with the final year of the assessment approaching the minimum level for a fishery to be considered viable.

Research Needs

Evaluate movement and stock boundaries by developing a tagging program and increasing genetic sampling, better characterize release mortality in the recreational fishery, increase trip level reporting for the recreational and for-hire sectors, develop a fishery independent sampling program for the species, evaluate the life history of cobia in North Carolina waters.

Links

Management Agencies

North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries

South Atlantic Fishery Management Council

Fishery Management Plans Amendments, Revisions and Supplements

South Atlantic Fishery Management Council

Stock Assessment Reports

Southeast Data, Assessment and Review 28 Stock Assessment Report – South Atlantic Cobia

Contacts

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