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North Carolina Department of Environment Quality

NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources
Marine Fisheries - Stock Overview

Marine Fisheries

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Stock Overview

8-point rule

 


The North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries Stock Overview is issued annually and reviews available information to determine the overall condition of North Carolina’s state-managed species. The information in each year is based on fisheries data available in the prior year. The 2018 Stock Overview, covering data through 2017, was prepared just as the NOAA Fisheries released revised Marine Recreational Information Program catch estimates as part of its recent transition from the former Coastal Household Telephone Survey to the new, mail-based Fishing Effort Survey. Results from NOAA Fisheries data queries will be different until these new NOAA Fisheries estimates are incorporated next year in the 2019 Stock Overview.

The phrase “stock status” is traditionally used to describe the current condition of the stock relative to established reference points. These reference points are often defined in terms of a threshold fishing mortality and threshold stock size. When a stock is above the fishing mortality threshold, overfishing is said to be occurring. When a stock is below the stock size threshold, it is said to be overfished or, sometimes, the term depleted is used if fishing mortality is not the reason for low stock size. Assignment of stock status based on this definition requires a stock assessment that provides both the values of the thresholds and the current estimates of fishing mortality and stock size to compare to those thresholds. Stock assessments are the primary tools used by managers to assist in determining the status of stocks and developing appropriate management measures for their long-term viability. Stock status in the Stock Overview beginning with 2018 is only assigned based on overfishing and overfished/depleted status.

If there is adequate data on a species to conduct a stock assessment, and one is completed that is accepted as a basis for management, the assessment results may be used by fishery managers to adjust harvest regulations. It also may be used for habitat improvements and stock enhancement techniques. If the assessment concludes the stock is in good shape - the stock is not overfished and overfishing is not occurring - then fishery managers may find no changes to existing management strategies are needed.

If the stock is overfished or overfishing is occurring, fishery managers will consider actions to improve the condition of the stock. A stock is overfished when the population size is too small. North Carolina General Statute 113-129 defines “overfished” as the condition of a fishery that occurs when the spawning stock biomass of the fishery is below the level that is adequate for the recruitment class of a fishery to replace the spawning class of the fishery. Overfishing occurs when the removal rate of fish is too high. North Carolina General Statute 113-129 defines “overfishing” as fishing that causes a level of mortality that prevents a fishery from producing a sustainable harvest.

The Division of Marine Fisheries currently manages two species that can be considered annual crops, shrimp and bay scallop. Annual crop species are short-lived and the annual abundance of the stock is a function of the strength of the incoming year class. These species are typically difficult to assess and/or are data limited. For these reasons, these species are not assigned a stock status.

Stock condition is impacted by many factors, not just fishing. The influence on stock condition from biotic (living, biological) and/or abiotic (non-living, physical) factors that cannot be controlled solely by regulating the fishery, such as water quality, habitat loss, disease, life history and predation is difficult to determine. The reliability of the status determination for a stock is dependent on how well all the factors are understood and quantified. For several data-limited species, the most important action is to begin research and monitoring projects to fill critical data needs.

The Division of Marine Fisheries and Marine Fisheries Commission are the only authorities in North Carolina coastal fishing waters that can implement plans and regulations to manage North Carolina marine and estuarine fisheries. The commission adopted the North Carolina Fishery Management Plan for Interjurisdictional Fisheries which selectively adopts management measures contained in approved federal council or Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission fishery management plans by reference as minimum standards. The goal of the Interjurisdictional Plan is to adopt these other plans, consistent with state law, approved by the federal Councils or the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission by reference, and implement corresponding fishery regulations in North Carolina to comply with or complement them.

Many fishery management plans have been developed and implemented by the federal Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council and South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (federal Councils) or the compact of states under the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission. The goal of these plans, established under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (through the federal councils’ fishery management plans) and the Atlantic Coastal Fisheries Cooperative Management Act (Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission fishery management plans), are similar to the goals of the North Carolina Fisheries Reform Act of 1997 to “ensure long-term viability” of these fisheries. The North Carolina Fisheries Reform Act requires the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries to prepare fishery management plans for adoption by the North Carolina Marine Fisheries Commission for all commercially and recreationally significant species or fisheries that comprise state marine or estuarine resources. The goal of these plans is to ensure long-term viability of these fisheries. Thirteen species have North Carolina fishery management plans.

North Carolina is an active, voting member on the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission as well as the South and Mid-Atlantic fishery management councils. North Carolina’s participation in these organizations is critical to ensure that North Carolina’s fishermen and fisheries resources are considered and adequately protected. To that end, North Carolina, through its Division of Marine Fisheries staff, Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission or federal council members, and citizen advisors, participates fully in the development of these federal and Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission fishery management plans that have an impact on commercial and recreational fisheries in North Carolina.

A stock overview determination for interjurisdictional species occurs based on the federal councils’ and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s processes for those fishery management plans.

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Click here for information about interjurisdictional species

2018 NORTH CAROLINA DIVISION OF MARINE FISHERIES STOCK OVERVIEW –
STATE MANAGED SPECIES
(July 2018, based on 2017 Data)

Species

Comments

Bay Scallop
(Closed to fishing)
scallops

Bay scallops are a short lived species that are managed as an annual crop. They are sensitive to environmental change and may experience high levels of predation, which can impact annual abundance. As a result, a stock assessment is not an effective tool for management. Sampling showed low numbers in all areas, and harvest was not allowed in 2017 because abundance levels did not meet the thresholds to open the season. Amendment 2 to the Bay Scallop Fishery Management Plan was approved in February 2015.

Blue Crab
Blue crab

Results of the 2018 benchmark stock assessment indicate the blue crab stock is overfished (stock size is too small) and overfishing (excessive fishing mortality) is occurring. This recent assessment passed peer review and the model was accepted for use in management. Development of Amendment 3 to the Blue Crab Fishery Management Plan is underway in conjunction with an advisory committee.

Eastern Oyster
Oysters

A stock assessment could not be conducted due to limited data; therefore, population size and the rate of removals from the population are not known. Commercial landings from public bottom have been variable, and landings from private bottom in the past few years have increased significantly due to more interest in aquaculture. Work is underway with N.C. State University and the Nature Conservancy to develop methodologies to determine stock status. Amendment 4 to the Oyster Fishery Management Plan was approved in February 2017.

+Estuarine Striped Bass:
Albemarle Sound/Roanoke River
Management Area
Striped bass

The 2016 Albemarle/Roanoke striped bass stock assessment update indicates overfishing (excessive fishing mortality) is not occurring and the stock is not overfished (stock size is adequate). Although the stock is not overfished, the abundance of mature females in the population has declined steadily since the peak in 2003. While very large, the estimate of abundance in the final year of the assessment (2014) is the most uncertain and should be viewed with caution. The estimate will likely decrease as additional years of data are added to the model. The fishery management plan review for estuarine striped bass is currently underway and results from a benchmark stock assessment utilizing data through 2017 are expected in early 2019. This is a joint plan with the Wildlife Resources Commission.

Estuarine Striped Bass:  Central/Southern
Management Area
Striped bass

The Central Southern Management Area stocks include the Tar/Pamlico, Neuse, and Cape Fear rivers. The major management issue is, based on genetic analysis, an overall high percentage of the fish in these systems are hatchery reared fish with very limited natural reproduction occurring. No stock assessment is currently available for management. The fishery management plan review for estuarine striped bass is currently underway and results from a benchmark stock assessment utilizing data through 2017 are expected in early 2019. This is a joint plan with the Wildlife Resources Commission.

Hard Clam
Clam

A stock assessment cannot be conducted due to limited data; therefore, population size and the rate of removals from the population are unknown. Harvest fluctuates, often in response to changes in demand, improved harvesting methods, and increases in polluted shellfish area closures. Amendment 2 to the Hard Clam Fishery Management Plan was approved in February 2017. 

Kingfishes
Kingfish

A stock assessment is not available due to lack of migration data, so an annual trend analysis with management triggers is used to monitor the stock. Though one management trigger was activated in 2017, no action is required because two triggers must be activated for two consecutive years to warrant further evaluation and possible management change. The Kingfish Fishery Management Plan Information Update was approved in December 2015.

+Red Drum
Red drum

The regional benchmark stock assessment (North Carolina and all states north), conducted by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission in 2017, indicates that overfishing (excessive fishing mortality) is not occurring and that management targets continue to be met. The size of the fish stock (overfished status), however, continues to be unknown due to limited data available for the adult population. The Red Drum Fishery Management Plan Update was approved in August 2017.

+River Herring
(Closed to fishing)
River herring

An Atlantic coastwide stock assessment update for river herring was completed in August 2017, with data through 2015, by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission. The North Carolina portion of the coastwide stock assessment is for the Albemarle Sound blueback herring stock only, due to the long-term data available for this area. River herring in other parts of the state are currently listed as unknown by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission due to the lack of data for these systems. The stock assessment update found that the North Carolina stock in the Albemarle Sound was not experiencing overfishing (excessive fishing mortality) due to the harvest moratorium, but the stock remains overfished (stock size is too small). The factors leading to this recommendation of stock status remain largely unchanged since the 2012 stock assessment, despite fishing pressure that is negligible. The spawning stock biomass remains 12 percent of the amount necessary to replace itself in the complete absence of fishing. Amendment 2 to the River Herring Fishery Management Plan was approved in February 2015.

Sheepshead
Sheepshead

No stock assessment is currently available for sheepshead. Landings trends and other biological data prompted the Marine Fisheries Commission to implement new harvest restrictions in June 2015. The division continues to monitor landings and collect data on the stock. In 2017, the commercial landings were below the 10 year average; however, recreational landings were above the 10 year average.

Shrimp
Shrimp

The stock is considered an annual crop that consists of three species of shrimp (brown, pink, white). The population size is determined mainly by the number of shrimp entering the population each year, which is driven by environmental conditions. Therefore, a stock assessment is not an effective tool for management. The division is continuing to collaborate with the industry on bycatch reduction in the shrimp trawl fishery. At its May 2018 meeting the Marine Fisheries Commission approved management measures to reduce bycatch by implementing new gear restrictions in the Pamlico Sound and portions of Core Sound, Pamlico River and Neuse River, effective July 1, 2019. Amendment 1 to the Shrimp Fishery Management Plan was approved in February 2015.

Southern Flounder
Southern flounder

The January 2018 stock assessment of southern flounder in the south Atlantic indicated that the stock is overfished (stock size is too small) and overfishing (excessive fishing mortality) is occurring. This recent assessment passed peer review and the model was accepted for use in management with the expectation that the assessment will be updated with information through 2017 so management is based on the most current data available. This updated assessment is underway and expected to be complete by the fall of 2018. Development of Amendment 2 to the Southern Flounder Fishery Management Plan is underway in conjunction with an advisory committee.

+Spotted Seatrout
Spotted seatrout

The 2014 stock assessment indicated that the spotted seatrout stock in North Carolina and Virginia was not overfished (stock size is adequate) and that overfishing (excessive fishing mortality) was not occurring in the terminal year (2012). Recreational and commercial landings for 2017 were at average levels compared to the past 10 years and there is no indication that the stock is at risk. In early 2018, there were widespread cold stun events. Cold stuns are natural events that occur when there is a sudden drop in water temperature or prolonged periods of cold weather that make fish sluggish. Many fish die or fall prey to birds and other predators. In compliance with the current fishery management plan, the division responded by closing the spotted seatrout fishery until the summer of 2018 to allow surviving fish an opportunity to spawn. The division is evaluating the magnitude of the cold stun events for use in future stock assessments. The next review of the Spotted Seatrout Fishery Management Plan is scheduled to begin in 2019.

Striped Mullet
Striped mullet

The 2013 stock assessment indicated overfishing (excessive fishing mortality) was not occurring, but could not determine the overfished (stock size) status. Commercial landings and abundance from independent indices in 2017 were near historic lows, but an update of the 2013 stock assessment model with data through 2017 indicated overfishing is not occurring. The striped mullet commercial fishery primarily targets mature females during the fall when they are migrating to the ocean to spawn which could lead to poor recruitment. Amendment 1 to the Striped Mullet Fishery Management Plan was approved in November 2015.
+ The species is also managed by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission. Management measures are implemented by the North Carolina Fishery Management Plan for Interjurisdictional Fisheries, which defers to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission plans.

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Click here for information about individual species

MANAGEMENT AUTHORITY FOR INTERJURISDITIONAL SPECIES

Species or species groups managed under the jurisdiction of the North Carolina Marine Fisheries Commission (NCMFC), the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC), and the South and/or Mid-Atlantic Councils (SAFMC and MAFMC) through the North Carolina Fishery Management Plan for Interjurisdictional Fisheries.

Species

Stock Overview Link

NCMFC

ASMFC

SAFMC

MAFMC

American Eel

ASMFC

 

 

 

American Shad

ASMFC

 

 

 

Atlantic Croaker

ASMFC

 

 

 

Atlantic Menhaden

ASMFC

 

 

 

Atlantic Sturgeon

ASMFC

 

 

 

Black Drum

ASMFC

 

 

 

Black Sea Bass (North of Hatteras)

ASMFC, MAFMC

 

 

Black Sea Bass (South of Hatteras)

SAFMC

 

 

 

Bluefish

ASMFC, MAFMC

 

 

Cobia

ASMFC, SAFMC

 

 

 

Dolphin

SAFMC

 

 

 

Gag

SAFMC

 

 

 

Hickory Shad

ASMFC

 

 

 

King Mackerel

SAFMC

 

 

 

Red Drum

NCMFC, ASMFC

 

 

River Herring

NCMFC, ASMFC

 

 

Scup

ASMFC, MAFMC

 

 

Sharks

ASMFC

 

 

 

Snapper-Grouper

SAFMC

 

 

 

Spanish Mackerel

ASMFC, MAFMC

 

 

Spiny Dogfish

ASMFC, MAFMC

 

 

Spot

ASMFC

 

 

 

Spotted Seatrout

NCMFC, ASMFC

 

 

Striped Bass
(Albemarle Sound/Roanoke
River Management Area)

 

NCMFC, ASMFC

 

 

Striped Bass (Atlantic Migratory)

ASMFC

 

 

 

Summer Flounder

ASMFC, MAFMC

 

 

Weakfish

ASMFC

 

 

 

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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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