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.
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 11.0 and 22.0 million pounds until the late 1980s. Landings increased to 15.6 million pounds in 1991, then dropped to the lowest landings measured in the fishery in 2000 at 2.7 million pounds. Starting in 2001, landings increased to about 15.0 million pounds in 2011. Since 2011, commercial landings have varied between 13.4 million pounds (2018) and 17.9 million pounds (2013). In 2020, commercial landings were 61% of the commercial quota. Since 1979, commercial landings have largely come from Rhode Island (38%), New Jersey (26%), and New York (16%). Commercial discards have been highly variable during most of the past 3 decades, averaging 26% of the total commercial catch during 1981-2020. In absolute terms, discards reached their highest level in 2017 recording 10.4 million pounds. The time series low of approximately 1 million pounds of discards occurred in 2003.
The recreational fishery for scup is significant, with anglers accounting for 12 to 75 percent of total annual catches from 1981-2020. Prior to 1996 when the Commission and the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council adopted the Scup Fishery Management Plan, recreational landings ranged from 2.3 million pounds and 14.2 million pounds. After the FMP was approved, recreational harvest remained low for a few years around 2-4 million pounds, which helped lead the way for spawning stock biomass (SSB) to recover in the early 2000s. Since the regional recreational management approach was introduced in 2003, recreational landings have averaged 10.4 million pounds annually. In 2020, recreational anglers harvested 12.9 million pounds, with the majority of the harvest coming from the northern states Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey.
The 2021 management track stock assessment indicated the stock is not overfished nor experiencing overfishing. SSB estimated at 389 million pounds in 2019 is about two times the target of 198 million pounds.
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 136 million fish during 1984-2019. The 2006, 2007 and 2015 year classes are estimated to be the largest of the time series, at 255, 258, and 415 million age 0 fish. Below average recruitment occurred in 2017-2019. Stock biomass is projected to further decrease toward the target unless more above average year classes recruit to the stock in the short-term.
Scup are one of four species jointly managed by the 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 (August 2002) and its subsequent Addenda (Addenda IX - XXXI). The management program divides a total annual quota between the recreational fishery (22%) and the commercial fishery (78%). Recreational fishery management measures 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 enables greater consistency between the states where fishermen from different states are often fishing alongside each other in the same waters.
Addendum XXIX (2017) shortens the length of the commercial scup summer period and extends the length of the winter II period to allow for the better utilization of the commercial quota, which was under-harvested in recent years. The following new quota periods were implemented beginning in 2018: Winter 1, January 1‐April 30 (120 days); Summer, May 1‐September 30 (153 days); Winter II, October 1‐December 31 (92 days).
Addendum XXXI (2018) expands the suite of tools available for managing summer flounder, scup and black sea bass, and reduces inconsistencies between state and federal regulations. Further, through the Addendum, the Board recommended NOAA Fisheries implement regulations to allow transit through federal waters in Block Island Sound for non-federally permitted vessels in possession of summer flounder, scup and black sea bass.
In 2021, the Board and Council jointly approved changes to the commercial and recreational allocations of summer flounder, scup, and black sea bass. These changes are intended to better reflect the current understanding of the historic proportions of catch and landings from the commercial and recreational sectors. The Board and Council developed this amendment in response to recent changes in how recreational catch is estimated by the Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP), which resulted in a revised time series of recreational data going back to the 1980s. This created a mismatch between the data that were used to set the allocations and the data currently used in management for setting catch limits. Additional information about this amendment is available at https://www.mafmc.org/actions/sfsbsb-allocationamendment.
The Board and Council has set new specifications for 2022 with a commercial quota of 20.38 million pounds and a recreational harvest limit (RHL) of 6.08 million pounds. Compared to 2021 landings limits, this represents a slight decrease in the commercial quota and a minor increase in the RHL. However, in response to high levels of recreational landings in recent years the Board and Council agreed to increase the scup recreational minimum size by one inch in state and federal waters. In state waters, this one‐inch increase will be applied to each state’s measures, which varies by state and mode. No changes were made to the commercial measures for 2022.
In March 2022, the Interstate Fisheries Management Program Policy Board (Policy Board) and the Council approved for public comment the Recreational Harvest Control Rule Draft Addenda to the Summer Flounder, Scup, and Black Sea Bass Fishery Management Plan (FMP) and Bluefish FMP. The Draft Addenda consider changes to the process used by the Commission and the Council to set recreational management measures (bag, size, and season limits) for summer flounder, scup, black sea bass, and bluefish. The Council is considering an identical set of options through a framework action. These potential changes are intended to provide greater stability and predictability in recreational management measures from year to year and allow for more explicit consideration of stock status when setting the measures. The Draft Addenda proposes five possible approaches for setting recreational measures. Key differences between the options include the information considered when setting measures and the circumstances under which measures would change. These differences have implications for how often measures would change and the magnitude of those changes. Taking final action on these addenda will not implement any specific bag, size, or season limits but will modify the specification process for setting specific measures. The Draft Addenda are available at http://www.asmfc.org/files/PublicInput/HCR_DraftAddenda_PublicComment_March2022.pdf. Public hearings were conducted through March and April and the deadline for public comment was April 22. The Policy Board and the Council are expected to take final action on the Recreational Harvest Control Rule Draft Addenda and Framework in June of 2022.