Life History

Scup (Stenotomus chrysops) are a migratory, schooling species found on the continental shelf of the Northwest Atlantic, commonly inhabiting waters from Cape Cod, Massachusetts to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. The abundance of scup in a specific area is frequently influenced by water temperature. Scup prefer temperatures greater than 45 degrees F and are most frequently encountered in water temperatures from 55 to 77 degrees F.

Scup overwinter in offshore waters from southern New Jersey to Cape Hatteras. When water temperatures begin to rise in spring and summer scup migrate to more northern and inshore waters to spawn. Spawning areas include locations from southern New England to Long Island, New York. Large fish arrive to the spawning grounds first, followed by successive waves of smaller individuals, suggesting that scup school by size. Larval scup are pelagic and are found in coastal waters during warmer months. Juvenile scup use a variety of coastal habitats and can dominate the overall fish population in large estuarine areas during the summer months.

Commercial & Recreational Fisheries


Scup are highly sought after by commercial and recreational fishermen throughout Southern New England and the Mid-Atlantic. Scup support commercial fisheries from Massachusetts to North Carolina. Commercial landings peaked in 1960 at 48.9 million pounds, and then ranged between 11.02 and 22.04 million pounds until the late 1980s. From the 1987-1996, commercial landings averaged 10.8 million pounds, and then declined to an average of 8.8 million pounds from 1997-2014. Since 1979, commercial landings have largely come from Rhode Island (38%), New Jersey (26%), and New York (16%). Commercial discards have been high during most of the past 3 decades, averaging 43% of the total commercial catch during 1989-2000. Since the implementation of gear restricted areas in 2001, estimated discards as a proportion of the total commercial catch have decreased, averaging about 33%.

The recreational fishery for scup is significant, with anglers accounting for 17 to 67% of total annual catches from 1985 to 2001. Recreational landings have fluctuated since 1998. Data shows increases through 2001, decreases in 2002, and substantial increases in 2003. Since 2004 landings have ranged from 2.4 to 4.67 million pounds. In 2014, recreational anglers harvested 4.4 million pounds, with the majority of the harvest coming from Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, and Connecticut catching the greatest proportion (>90%).

Stock Status


Based on the 2015 benchmark stock assessment and peer review, scup is not overfished nor experiencing overfishing relative to the new reference points defined in the assessment. Spawning stock biomass (SSB) was estimated at 403.6 million pounds about two times the SSB target of 192.47 million pounds.  Fishing mortality on age 3 fish and older in 2014 was estimated at 0.127, below the new fishing mortality threshold of 0.22.

Since 1984, recruitment (e.g., the number of fish entering the population) estimates are influenced mainly by the fishery and survey catches-at-age, and averaged 109 million fish during 1984-2014. The 1999, 2006, and 2007 year classes are estimated to be the largest of the time series, at 222, 222, and 218 million age 0 fish. Below average recruitment occurred in 2012 and 2013. The 2014 year class is estimated to be above average at 112 million age 0 fish.

Atlantic Coastal Management


Recreational angler with scup. Photo credit: Mark Terceiro, NMFS NEFSC.

Scup are one of four species jointly managed by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission and the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council (MAFMC). Scup are managed under Amendment 13 to the Summer Flounder, Scup and Black Sea Bass Fishery Management Plan - Executive Summary (August 2002) and its subsequent Addenda (Addendum XX - XIII). The management program divides a total annual quota between the recreational fishery (22%) and the commercial fishery (78%). Recreational fishery management measures usually include a combination of minimum size limits, bag limits, and fishing seasons. Since 2004, the states of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New York have formed a northern region when setting their recreational regulations. This regional approach creates consistency between the states where fishermen from different states are often fishing alongside each other in the same waters.

In August 2012, the Commission and MAFMC initiated the development of a draft amendment to the Scup Fishery Management Plan to consider revisions to seasonal and sector allocations. Proposed measures will include options to modify the commercial/recreational allocation, currently set at 78%/22%, and options to move a portion of the Winter I & II Period allocation to the Summer Period (currently at 38.95% of the quota). The Commission and Council set an upper limit for the amount of allocation distributed to the recreational sector at 40%. For the seasonal allocation, both groups set a maximum percentage of allocation distributed to the Summer Period at 50%. These measures are being considered to maximize the overall benefits of the available total allowable catch.

For the 2016 fishing season, both the Commission and MAFMC set the commercial quota at 20.47 million pounds and the recreational harvest limit at 6.09 million pounds. This represents a decrease from 2015 levels due to a slight decrease in spawning stock biomass (SSB) as projected by the 2015 benchmark stock assessment.

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