May 19, 2011

2010 commercial and recreational landings inch back up

North Carolina commercial seafood harvests rose slightly, by 4 percent, in 2010 to the highest level since 2005.

The same was true for recreational harvests, which inched up 6 percent after a 15 percent decline in 2009.

“The increase is a surprise considering increased regulations, including many seasonal closures, imposed by the federal councils and the National Marine Fisheries Service, as well as restrictions from the sea turtle lawsuit settlement,” said North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries Director Louis Daniel. “Additional increases in fuel and commodity prices might have been expected to actually cause the numbers to decline.”
Commercial fishermen brought in 72 million pounds of fish and shellfish, with a dockside value of $80 million in 2010, according to the division’s Commercial Trip Ticket Program. That was a 3 percent increase from the previous five-year landings average of 70 million pounds.

The increased harvest came with a 3 percent decrease in the number of commercial fishing trips. Commercial fishermen took 152,084 fishing trips in 2010.
Included in the commercial gains was an 8 percent increase in shellfish, shrimp and crab landings, bolstered by an 81 percent jump in oyster landings.

Oystermen sold more than 1 million pounds of oyster meats (196,661 bushels), with a dockside value of about $5 million, to North Carolina seafood dealers in 2010. The landings were 125 percent higher than the previous five-year average and corresponded to a 139-percent increase in the use of oyster dredges.

Division sampling indicates that disease-related oyster mortalities have been significantly reduced, compared to the past 20 years, and spat fall has been good, said division Central District Manager Mike Marshall.

“The oyster resource in western Pamlico Sound has rebounded at an amazing rate,” Marshall said. “Oysters are being caught in areas where they have not been found in 30 years. Every fisherman you talk to goes on about how fast the oysters are growing, which is key to getting the type of production we are seeing.”

Blue crab landings increased in 2010, as well. Fishermen sold 30.7 million pounds of blue crabs at the docks, a 2 percent increase from 2009. The landings had a dockside value of $26.5 million.

Blue crabs remained the state’s top commercial seafood in both pounds harvested and dockside value, followed by Atlantic croaker (7.3 million pounds), shrimp (6 million pounds), summer flounder (3.3 million pounds) and bluefish (3.2 million pounds).

While overall commercial finfish harvests remained consistent, with a slight 0.5 percent increase from 2009, Atlantic croaker and bluefish harvests increased by 19 percent and 36 percent, respectively.

Southern flounder landings decreased by 29 percent. Much of this decrease can be attributed to a 45 percent reduction in flounder landings from gill nets. Regulations from a settlement in the sea turtle lawsuit may have contributed to the reduced gill net landings.

An overall 61 percent reduction in commercial dolphin landings corresponds to fewer dolphin-targeted trips made with longline and trolling gear last year. King mackerel landings decreased by 58 percent, corresponding to 65 percent fewer trips targeting king mackerel with trolling gear.

Tuna landings decreased, as well – yellowfin by 33 percent, bigeye by 43 percent, and bluefin by 65 percent.

Recreational harvests rose from 13.6 million pounds in 2009 to 14.4 million pounds in 2010, according to the division’s Coastal Angling Program. The increased harvest corresponds to a 7 percent rise in the overall number of recreational fishing trips.

However, fishing trips into federal waters (beyond three miles from shore) dropped by 18 percent.

“The recreational rise was due mainly to the poundage associated with the striped bass catches and the increase in bluefish landings,” said division Recreational Statistics Coordinator Doug Mumford. “The bluefish increase resulted from the increase in beach, bank, and pier trips.”

The jump in ocean striped bass harvests likely resulted from more fish migrating into North Carolina waters during the past winter than in previous years, Mumford said.

“There was an overall shift in recreational fishing effort in North Carolina to trips that were less expensive,” he said.

Dolphin landings decreased by nearly 15 percent to 3.3 million pounds. Even so, dolphin remained the top recreational catch, followed by yellowfin tuna, up 48 percent to 1.2 million pounds; bluefish up 21 percent to 1.2 million pounds; ocean striped bass, up 239 percent to 711,184 pounds; and Spanish mackerel, down 35 percent to 579,638 pounds.

Recreational angler fishing trips rose by about 4 percent from piers and other man-made structures, by about 8 percent from the beach or bank, nearly 10 percent from guide and charter boats, and 9 percent from private vessels. Party boat trips decreased by 15 percent.

A full report of 2010 commercial and recreational landings statistics can be found on the division website at For more information, contact License and Statistics Section Chief Don Hesselman at (252) 808-8099 or [email protected].

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