Weakfish data ● The 5 highest years of North Carolina weakfish landings average 16.3 million pounds. ● The last 2 years of weakfish landings data (2019-2020) show average landings of 0.1 million pounds, less than 1% of the 5-year peak. ● Shrimp trawl bycatch is the most significant source of weakfish mortality in North Carolina. ● Historically, weakfish contributed 16%-21% of the annual commercial finfish landing in North Carolina. ● In 2020, the contribution of weakfish to total North Carolina finfish landings was less than 1%. ● Commercial fisheries peaked in 1980 at 36 million pounds, while public anglers removed 26 million pounds in 2000. ● Current landings from the ASMFC indicate commercial landings dropped to 102,492 pounds in 2018, and public anglers harvested 1.3 million pounds. ● Commercial trips are now limited to 100 pounds, and anglers are limited to one fish. The stocks show little sign of recovery, yet their bycatch in non-directed fisheries, especially shrimp trawls, continues unchecked
● The 5 highest years of commercial landings of Atlantic croaker in North Carolina averaged 18.2 million pounds. 4 ● The last 2 years of Atlantic croaker landings data (2019-2020) show average annual landings of 0.53 million pounds, 5% of the 5-year peak harvest. ● The 5 highest years of public landings in North Carolina averaged 1.2 million pounds. ● The last 2 years of Atlantic croaker landings data (2019-2020) indicate average annual landings of 0.3 million pounds (870,000 fish), 17% of the 5-year peak harvest. ● Combined commercial and public harvest peak North Carolina landings show reduced annual landings going from 19.4 million pounds to 0.83 million pounds, a 96% decline. ● Atlantic croaker historically contributed as much as 19%-36% of the annual commercial finfish landed in North Carolina. In 2020, the contribution of Atlantic croaker to total North Carolina finfish landings was 3%. ● Total harvest from Florida to New York peaked in 2001 at 28.6 million pounds and declined to 0.80 million pounds in 2020—a 97% decline. ● Similarly, coastwide public angler landings have declined from 18.9 million pounds in 2003 to 1.8 million pounds in 2019—a 90% decline
ASMFC’s historical hesitancy to develop an interjurisdictional shrimp FMP to reduce shrimp trawl bycatch further is primarily because most of the problem occurs in one state—North Carolina. While ASMFC has always hoped that North Carolina would voluntarily and independently address the situation, that is unlikely to happen. The State’s recent adoption of Amendment 2 to the N.C. Shrimp FMP demonstrates North Carolina’s unwillingness to responsibly regulate the shrimp trawl industry in the best interest of all North Carolinians, much less the interests of citizens in our neighboring states. In comparing even the very lowest finfish bycatch estimates, North Carolina’s shrimp trawl bycatch vastly exceeds the public and commercial harvest of Atlantic croaker, spot and weakfish for the entire East Coast (Table 2). Because each of these three stocks is collapsed or collapsing, it’s unlikely that these species and others adversely impacted by excessive shrimp trawl bycatch (blue crab, Southern flounder and kingfishes stocks) can achieve even short-term harvest sustainability. It is virtually impossible that any of these species will achieve long-term viability absent responsible regulation of the North Carolina shrimp trawl fishery by DMF.