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, with landings largely coming from Rhode Island (38%), New Jersey (26%), and New York (16%). S 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. Commercial discards have been high during most of the past three 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 2015, recreational anglers harvested 4.6 million pounds, with the majority of the harvest coming from Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, and Connecticut.

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 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 - XX). 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.

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.

In May 2017, the Board approved Addendum XXIX. The Addendum shortens the length of the commercial scup summer period and extends the length of the winter II period. The Addendum was developed to allow for the better utilization of the commercial quota, which was under-harvested in recent years. The new quota periods are the following and have been implemented for the 2018 fishing season: Winter 1, January 1‐April 30 (120 days); Summer, May 1‐September 30 (153 days); Winter II, October 1‐December 31 (92 days).

The Board and Council approved Draft Addendum XXXI for public comment in August 2018. Draft Addendum XXXI and the Council’s complementary framework consider adding management options to the FMP for transit provisions for Block Island Sound and slot limits in federal waters. The Draft Addendum aims to increase the suite of tools available for management, as well as reduce inconsistencies between state and federal regulations. Public comment will be accepted until November 28, 2018, with final action anticipated in mid-December.

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