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 11.02 and 22.04 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 15.86 million pounds in 2011. Since 2011, commercial landings have varied between 14.88 million pounds (2012) and 17.87 million pounds (2013). In 2017, commercial landings were 15.4 million pounds (75% 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 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 1981-2017. 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 2017, recreational anglers harvested 5.43 million pounds, with the majority of the harvest coming from Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Connecticut.
The 2017 stock assessment update indicated the stock is considered rebuilt and not experiencing overfishing, with SSB estimated at 396 million pounds, about two times the SSB target of 192 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 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.
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).
In December 2019, the Commission approved Addendum XXXI through a joint action with MAFMC. The Addendum 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.
Based on the latest assessment results, the Commission and MAFMC set the commercial quota at 23.98 million pounds for the 2018 and 2019 fishing seasons and the recreational harvest limit at 7.37 million pounds.