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.
Summer Flounder, Scup, and Black Sea Bass Commercial/Recreational Allocations Amendment
The Board and MAFMC developed a joint amendment to consider an adjustment to the allocations between the commercial and recreational fisheries for summer flounder, scup and black sea bass. The commercial and recreational allocations for all three species are currently based on historical proportions of landings (for summer flounder and black sea bass) or catch (for scup) for each sector. Recent changes in how recreational harvest is estimated have resulted in a discrepancy between the current levels of estimated recreational harvest and the allocations of summer flounder, scup and black sea bass to the recreational sector. Some changes have also been made to commercial catch data since the allocations were established. This amendment considers whether modifications to the allocations are needed in light of these and other changes in the fisheries. The amendment also considers options that would allow a portion of landings to be transferred between the commercial and recreational sectors each year, in either direction, based on the needs of each sector. At the April 2021 meeting of the Board and MAFMC, final action was postponed to allow for further development of the Recreational Reform Initiative. The Council and Board are now scheduled to take final action on the commercial/recreational allocation amendment at a joint meeting in December 2021. Additional information and updates on this amendment are available at: https://www.mafmc.org/actions/sfsbsb-allocation-amendment.