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MOREHEAD CITY – Continuing a trend that began in 1997, the state’s commercial fishing harvest continues to drop, while recreational fishing remains stable, according to harvest data released by the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries.

The 2005 commercial harvest of finfish and shellfish totaled 79 million pounds, valued at $64.9 million – North Carolina’s smallest harvest on record. Data suggests other southeast states are experiencing similar declines.

Landings fluctuate for a variety of reasons – weather, fuel prices, market demand, availability of seafood, low-cost imports, the number of people fishing and harvest restrictions. Each of these factors came into play during North Carolina’s 2005 fishing year.

One reason the depressed 2005 landings was the small menhaden catch; only 13.3 million pounds of the oily industrial fish were landed at Tar Heel docks. Landings in this fishery can fluctuate widely, from the low of 13.3 million pounds, to over 300 million pounds, depending on the amount of effort the commercial industry expends. That effort was minimal in 2005 with only 15 fishing trips reported using purse seines, the principal gear used to take menhaden.

Other commercial mainstays experiencing decreased landings were blue crabs and shrimp. Blue crab harvest was at 25.6 million pounds, compared to the previous five-year average of 36 million pounds. Shrimp landings were 2.3 million pounds, down from the previous five-year average of 7.3 million pounds. Trip data show fewer crab pot and shrimp trawl fishing trips were made in 2005. The higher cost of fuel, the lower market value of shrimp due to imports, and the scarcity of crabs and shrimp, all contributed to the landings decline in these important fisheries.

The top-five species commercially harvested were:

By Value* By Pounds Landed
Blue Crabs (Hard) $20.3 million Blue Crabs (Hard) 25.4 million
Summer Flounder $7.5 million Atlantic Menhaden 13.3 million
Shrimp $4.4 million Atlantic Croaker 11.5 million
Southern Flounder $3.5 million Summer Flounder 4 million
Atlantic Croaker $3.3 million Bluefish 2.8 million

*Values are ex-vessel, which is the amount fishermen are paid for their catch.

The state’s oyster harvest continues to be a highlight to the commercial sector. In 2005, watermen caught 71,479 bushels, an increase over the 69,501 bushels harvested in 2004, and well over the previous five-year average of 50,431 bushels. This modest gain in oyster harvest is most likely attributed to favorable growing conditions, including higher levels of rainfall than in previous years.

Compared to the previous five-year average, other increased commercial landings in 2005 were gag grouper, grunts, king mackerel, porgies, beeliners, red drum, swordfish and bigeye tuna.

NCDMF News Release
Page 2

Commercial Effort Summary:
Year Active Fishermen Pounds Harvested Fishing Trips
2000 5,031 154,229,116 259,746
2001 5,076 137,163,960 246,914
2002 4,694 160,171,058 213,513
2003 4,352 139,425,054 197,314
2004 4,255 134,102,127 185,627
2005 3,890 79,162,659 155,112

On the recreational front, the number of estimated anglers increased to 2.4 million in 2005, with most growth coming from out-of-state fishermen. Yellowfin tuna topped the charts for poundage of fish landed, followed by dolphin. There were minimal declines in the number of fishing trips and harvest compared to the previous year, which could possibly be attributed to fuel costs.

The top-five fish recreationally harvested were:
Species Pounds
Yellowfin Tuna 5.5 million
Dolphin 5.1 million
Striped Bass 2.2 million
King Mackerel 1.3 million
Bluefish 1.1 million

Recreational Effort Summary:
Year Active Anglers Pounds Harvested Fishing Trips
2000 1,921,780 22,699,280 6,460,011
2001 2,006,661 24,145,835 6,649,546
2002 1,765,205 17,879,149 5,586,122
2003 2,102,925 22,009,304 6,733,464
2004 2,055,415 24,905,130 7,024,464
2005 2,360,712 22,077,462 6,653,357

The estimated harvest from people who hold the Recreational Commercial Gear License was 517,533 pounds in 2005, with a slight decline in the number of RCGL trips from 53,518 in 2004 to 46,935 in 2005. The RCGL allows recreational fishermen to use limited amounts of commercial gear to harvest seafood for personal consumption.
The top-five species harvested by RCGL gear:

Species Pounds
Spot 193,769
Blue Crab 105,179
Flounder 58,099
Striped Mullet 36,314
Shrimp 32,542

Visit the DMF’s Web site at to view harvest statistics, or download the annual fisheries bulletin at For information on commercial statistics, contact Don Hesselman at [email protected] or by calling 252-726?7021 or 800-682-2632. For information on recreational hook-and-line statistics, contact Doug Mumford at [email protected] or by calling 252-946-6481 or 800-338-7804. For information on RCGL statistics, contact Chris Wilson at [email protected] or by calling 252- 946-6481 or 800-338-7804.
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