North Carolina’s coastal recreational fishermen hooked more fish in 2015 than they did in 2014. Anglers brought an estimated 10.2 million fish to the docks in 2015, an increase of 6.8 percent over 2014.
The estimated weight of these landings rose by 32 percent to 11.6 million pounds. Anglers also released 6 percent more fish in 2015 than in 2014.
The top five recreational species harvested, by pounds, were dolphin, bluefish, yellowfin tuna, cobia, and wahoo. Landings increased for three of these five species.
The number of dolphin taken increased by 132 percent over the previous year to 430,296 fish — 3.2 million pounds — the highest since 2011. Recreational wahoo and cobia harvest rose, as well. Anglers hooked 66 percent more wahoo — 19,284 fish or 534,787 pounds — and 62 percent more cobia — 15,875 fish or 675,859 pounds. Cobia harvests were the highest since 2013 and the average weight of the cobia nearly doubled from 2014, a fluctuation that is not uncommon from year-to-year.
A likely reason dolphin, wahoo and cobia harvests rose was that fishermen redirected efforts to catch them in the absences of yellowfin tuna harvests. Anglers brought 10.7 percent fewer yellowfin tuna to the docks — 24,205 fish or 723,127 pounds.
Rounding out the top five recreational species, bluefish harvests decreased by16 percent to 911,983 fish or 769,262 pounds.
Also notable in recreational fisheries, estimated spotted sea trout harvests for 2015 were the lowest on record. One likely contributing factor to the low catches was the back to back cold stuns in 2013 and 2014. The Division of Marine Fisheries closed spotted sea trout harvest Feb. 5 to June 15 in 2014 to allow the fish that survived the cold stun event the maximum chance to spawn in the spring.
Another factor may have been the abnormal amount of rainfall in eastern North Carolina in the fall and winter of 2015 that flushed the creeks with freshwater, causing fish to move to higher salinities.
Even though catches were very low, spotted sea trout remained the second highest target species following flounder. Also, while the spotted sea trout harvest was down in 2015, estimates of recreational released catch (undersized) were at near record levels.
The Division of Marine Fisheries estimates recreational fishing harvests through broad-based intercept surveys, where port agents talk to fishermen on the beach, at the piers and at boat ramps, and through mail surveys to license holders.
For a full landings report, click on the 2015 Annual Fisheries Bulletin link at http://portal.ncdenr.org/web/mf/marine-fisheries-catch-statistics