A commercial fishing trawler cruises northeast off Topsail Island. Photo: Dylan Ray

Reprinted courtesy of Coastal Review Online

 CRO staff report

Commercial fishers sold to seafood dealers nearly 20% less fish and shellfish last year, while recreational landings remained roughly the same.

In 2020, 42.9 million pounds of fish and shellfish were sold, a decrease of 19% from 2019 and about a 23% decrease from the previous five-year average, according to the Division of Marine Fisheries.

Recreational anglers landed 53.5 million finfish weighing 24.9 million pounds from state coastal and estuarine waters last year. The total weight harvested was about 4.6% higher than 2019 and a 4% increase over the previous five-year average.

The decrease in commercial harvest was linked to a 41.3% decrease in hard blue crab landings from 2019, which may be related to COVID-19 impacts.

The Division of Marine Fisheries said several fishermen told officials that they found it difficult to move blue crabs at the beginning of the state’s stay-at-home order when many restaurants were closed. Hard blue crabs remained the state’s top commercial seafood in terms of pounds landed, while shrimp brought the most money to fishermen at the docks.

The division provided this list of top five species by weight landed commercially from state coastal and estuarine waters in 2020:

SpeciesPounds landedEstimate dockside value
Hard blue crabs13.1 million$19.1 million
Shrimp9.7 million$22.3 million
Summer flounder1.8 million$3.7 million
Spiny dogfish1.5 million$205,016  
Striped mullet1.3 million$651,104

The top five recreationally landed species from coastal and estuarine waters in 2020 were the following:

SpeciesPounds landedNumber of fish landed
Spotted seatrout3.6 million2.1 million
Yellowfin tuna2.4 million83,766
Dolphin2.1 million262,372
Bluefish2.1 million2.1 million
Spanish mackerel1.8 million1.3 million

Anglers took 16.4 million fishing trips in North Carolina coastal and estuarine waters in 2020, about 1.1 million fewer than in 2019.

The Division of Marine Fisheries’ Trip Ticket Program collects commercial fishing landings statistics through statutorily mandated reporting of all commercial fisher-to-dealer transactions.

The division estimates recreational fishing harvests through the Marine Recreational Information Program.

The data for the program is gathered by port agents talking to fishermen at recreational access sites such as piers, boat ramps and charter docks and on the beach. Data is also gathered through mail surveys to license holders. The estimates do not include recreational landings of shrimp, crabs and shellfish.

For the full landings report, see the 2020 Annual Fisheries Bulletin.