Scientists Report on Summer Flounder and Scup Stocks -- July 24, 2002 2002/07/24 Scientists Report on Summer Flounder and Scup

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Improvements Holding for

Summer Flounder and Scup

off Northeast

Teri Frady
Chief of Research Communications
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NMFS Northeast Fisheries Science Center

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Woods Hole, MA A panel of independent scientists has encouraging news about the status of Northeast summer flounder and scup stocks, two marine fish species important to both commercial and recreational fishing. The panel finds that fishery management measures first instituted in the mid-1990s continue to rebuild these once depleted stocks.

The findings are a product of the 35th meeting of the Northeast Regional Stock Assessment Review Committee (SARC.) The panel is an independent scientific body convened regularly by NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries) in the Northeast since 1985 to peer review fish stock status information and produce scientific advice to fishery managers in the Northeast. NOAA is an agency of the Department of Commerce.

The panel also cautions fishery managers to adopt conservative harvest limits for 2003 and calls for improved assessment methods for scup. Projections show that these stocks will continue to grow if target fishing rates are achieved.

SARC analyses and recommendations are used to manage sustainable fisheries. Summer flounder and scup are managed jointly by the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, which devise management plans for fisheries conducted in federal and state waters, respectively. The Council and Commission are scheduled to meet the week of August 5 to review this report and to develop recommended 2003 catch limits for summer flounder and scup.

The report notes that total stock biomass for summer flounder has increased for the third year in a row (from 81.7 million pounds in 2000 to an estimated 94.5 million pounds in 2001), with greater numbers of mature fish. The stock is more than one-third of the targeted level for a rebuilt stock, and harvest rates are substantially lower than in previous years and very near the sustainable harvest target.

Since the recreational fishery has exceeded its harvest limit by 58 percent and the commercial sector by 5 percent over the past six years, the group advised managers to adopt a conservative harvest limit for 2003.

"The allowable landings for summer flounder in 2003 would be just over 23 million pounds if this year's landings do not exceed harvest targets," said Dr. Terry Smith of NOAA Fisheries, who organized the regional SARC meeting. "However, since the fishery has exceeded harvest limits during the past six years, the panel advised more caution in setting this year's quotas so the stock can achieve its rebuilding target."

The panel also reports that signs are positive for recovery in the scup population, based on relative stock size estimates derived from research trawl surveys. The most recent year's estimates come from survey values that are the highest ever recorded.

"Without question, scup populations are improving," says Smith, "but we must be mindful of the very low levels from which this stock has risen." Smith notes, "We don't have a particularly sophisticated way of estimating actual abundance or harvest rates, so the panel encouraged managers to be cautious about rapidly increasing allowable catch, and urged scientists to work with managers to improve data and methods for assessing this stock."

During its meeting, the panel also reviewed new methods for improving assessments for those stocks where biological data is scarce, and ongoing research on silver hake population dynamics and stock separation.

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