January 18 -- Several Northeast Commercial Fish Stocks Improving, Skate Status Mixed 2000/01/18 Several Stocks Improving, Skates Mixed

Weakfish, Mackerel

and Surfclams Abundant,

Barndoor Skates Discussed

Teri Frady
PH: (508) 495-2239
George Liles
PH: (508) 495-2378


NMFS Northeast Fisheries Science Center

N         E         W         S

Danvers, MA Scientists reported today that Northeastern U.S. populations of weakfish, Atlantic mackerel and Atlantic surfclams are at a high level of abundance, tautog stocks are at a low abundance but harvest rates have declined, and that three species of larger-bodied skates have been more affected by commercial fishing than four species of smaller-bodied skates.

These findings were reported today by NOAA Fisheries in Danvers at a regular meeting of the New England Fishery Management Council, a regional body that develops management plans for commercial and recreational fisheries in federal waters. Scientists were presenting the results of the 30th meeting of the Stock Assessment Review Committee (SARC), the regional scientific body convened regularly since 1985 to peer-review fish and shellfish stock assessments and provide scientific advice to fishery managers in the Northeast.

As a whole, the total population of skate species off the Northeast is at a medium level of abundance, with smaller skates at relatively high levels, offsetting the relatively low abundance of the larger skates. The fishery targets larger-bodied skates (such as winter and thorny skates) for the food market, and smaller skates (particularly little skate) for the bait market. Skate landings by commercial vessels, primarily trawlers, were the highest on record in 1998. Preliminary analyses indicate discards of skates in the fishery are two to three times the average landings.

The largest species, the barndoor skate, declined to its lowest recorded population levels in the late 1960s, but since 1990 has increased slightly in parts of its range. The analyses indicate there is little evidence that the barndoor skate is in danger of extinction or that it is likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future. The report issued today will form an important part of a larger status review that will be conducted by NMFS this year in order to respond to a petition filed last March to protect the barndoor skate under the federal Endangered Species Act.

Harvests of weakfish have declined, and the stock continues to rebound under fishery management measures that have restrained both commercial and recreational effort. The analyses showed that stock abundance is high, and that continued low mortality rates should assure full recovery of all age and size classes.

The decline in the tautog stock appears to have been halted. Analyses reported today indicate that harvest rates have declined as intended under management measures enacted to promote recovery. Although the spawning stock biomass remains low, there appears to have been good survival of young fish born in 1998. Nearly 90% (by weight) of tautog are landed in the recreational fishery.

The Atlantic mackerel stock continues to be at a high level of abundance and landings of the species could be substantially increased. Although U.S. landings have increased in recent years, to 31.5 million pounds in 1998, this is less than 10% of the long-term sustainable harvest level. Atlantic mackerel stock is a transboundary stock, and migrates across U.S. and Canadian waters.

Atlantic surfclams are also at relatively high abundance in federal waters (more than 3 miles from shore.) About 39% of the stock biomass is found off Northern New Jersey, where three-quarters or more of the landings in recent years have been taken. Although the scientific panel indicated that overall harvests can be increased, the report also advises managers to be cautious about localized overharvesting.

The SARC reports form one part of the information used in the Northeast to describe the status of fish and shellfish stocks and to manage toward sustainable fisheries. Skates are not presently managed under a regional fishery management plan. The Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council has primary management responsibility for Atlantic surfclams and Atlantic mackerel. The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission has management responsibility for weakfish and tautog.

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