Contact: Nancy Fish, Marine Fisheries                                                   
Date:    April 28, 2006                                                 
Phone: (252) 726-7021

Commercial Harvest Declines Persist

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.

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 or by calling 252-726‑7021 or 800-682-2632. For information on recreational hook-and-line statistics, contact Doug Mumford at or by calling 252-946-6481 or 800-338-7804. For information on RCGL statistics, contact Chris Wilson at or by calling 252- 946-6481 or 800-338-7804.