Commercial catches are up after four-year decline

By on May 19, 2015

(N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources)

North Carolina’s commercial fishing harvest increased by 23 percent in 2014, boosted by higher landings of blue crabs, spiny dogfish and summer flounder.

Commercial fishermen sold 61.7 million pounds of fish and shellfish to North Carolina dealers last year, according to the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries’ Commercial Trip Ticket Program. It was the first year commercial landings rose since 2010, an upward tick in a long declining trend since the late 1990s.

The estimated dockside value of the commercial harvest climbed 19 percent in 2014 to $93.8 million, continuing an increasing trend since 2011.

Recreational fishermen harvested approximately 9.6 million fish weighing about 9 million pounds in 2014, a 25 percent decrease in pounds from 2013, according to the division’s Coastal Angling Program. It is 29 percent lower than the average of recreational landings from 2010 to 2013.

As usual, hard blue crabs topped the state’s commercial harvest in 2014, followed by spiny dogfish, shrimp, summer flounder and Atlantic croaker.

Commercial fishermen sold 2.9 million pounds of summer flounder to North Carolina dealers in 2014 — five times more than in 2013. The increase was a direct result of a more restrictive state policy on allowing boats to land their harvest in Virginia and other states. In previous years, the state allowed more boats to do this because of shallow waters in Oregon Inlet. It required North Carolina to transfer much of its summer flounder quota to other states, causing federal quota allocation concerns.

Hard blue crab harvests increased by 18 percent from 2013, as the number of fishing trips with crab pots rose by 5 percent and the average catch of hard blue crabs in the pot fishery increased by 42 pounds per trip. The estimated dockside value of blue crabs in North Carolina rose by 13 percent, as well.

Spiny dogfish landings rose by 88 percent to 5.7 million pounds due to an increase in the state’s allotted quota.

Shrimp harvests decreased by 4 percent from 2013 to 4.7 million pounds in 2014.

Atlantic croaker landings increased 36 percent to 2.6 million pounds.

Overall, commercial finfish harvests increased by 34 percent to 29.4 million pounds in 2014. Shellfish and crustacean harvests increased by 15 percent to 32 million pounds.

The top recreationally harvested fish (in pounds) in 2014 were dolphin, bluefish, yellowfin tuna, spot and red drum.

Recreational dolphin landings decreased by 14 percent to 1.3 million pounds, bluefish landings decreased by 3 percent to 961,222 pounds, yellowfin tuna landings decreased by 37 percent to 913,785 pounds.

Red drum harvests decreased by 12 percent to 598,166 pounds, after the highest landings on record in 2013.

Spot, however, returned to the top five after an absence since 2007. Recreational spot harvests increased by 53 percent in 2014 to 704,445 pounds.

While the number of private boat and for-hire fishing trips dropped by 18.7 percent and 8 percent, respectively, the number of beach and bank fishing trips increased by 37.3 percent.

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