Recent headlines from Marine Fisheries: “NC Recreational Salt Water Landings Down”. NCDMF has reported that although the fishing effort is up, that is there were 16% more fishing trips in 2016 compared to 2015, anglers caught 18% fewer fish. But as always the devil is in the details! One bright spot is last year’s great statistics for speckled trout which were nearly five fold above 2015 levels, but provided some of the best trout catches in recent years. We can even see the spillover into this spring and summer, where catches of big trout is notably better than we normally experience this time of year. And this is in the face of frequent winter trout kills in the last few years. I’m sure bag and size limits have helped rebuild these stocks along with season closures. So in 2016 if you didn’t routinely get your limit of trout, you just weren’t trying.
What are other notable pluses and minuses that contributed to this report? Offshore pelagics, one of the most targeted species, the dolphin (mahi-mahi) dropped nearly 40 percent but yellowfin tuna catches tripled and was the highest in the last 5-years and wahoo catches were up modestly. Wahoo catches have actually been very strong for the last year or so. Yellowfin catch has been low here along the crystal Coast, but numbers must reflect much better catch numbers farther north in the state.
Inshore and nearshore catches had a mix of good and bad news. Red drum and southern flounder had modest increases as had bluefish but the bottom panfish catches were considerably lower and that includes spots, croaker and sea mullet (a.k.a. kingfish). By just checking the local fishing piers and you could have predicted that.
The mackerels are still going strong both from the surf, piers and boats trolling along the beaches although the Spanish catches were down from 2012 and 2013 numbers. On the other hand, and I can attest to this, summer flounder catches continue to drop dramatically with more and more of the catch coming from nearshore reefs wrecks and ledges and fewer from the beach, piers and inlets. In 2016, the summer flounder catch is less than 30 percent compared to 2012. The last few years I can only find short throw-backs and never come close to a bag limit of four fish.
One interesting success has to do with black drum. As you remember North Carolina finally instituted size and bag limits on this species. People often were keeping juvenile spot-sized fish well before maturity. The year that a 10-inch minimum length and a 10-fish bag limit was instituted, the catches of the black drum plummeted. Since then, the numbers have steadily increased and the average size of the fish has also increased each year from under two-pounds prior to the new limits to well over three-pounds per fish since the new limits were instituted. Exactly what one would hope, let the babies live and get bigger and reproduce and you get more fish and bigger fish. Seems like some other species might benefit from similar regulations. So how did you do in 2016? So far in 2017? For details on the commercial and recreational catch data check out: http://portal.ncdenr.org/web/mf/marine-fisheries-catch-statistics.