MOREHEAD CITY, NC — North Carolina commercial seafood landings rose by 13 percent in 2008, bolstered by the best hard blue crab harvest since 2003. The increase ends a previous five-year decline for the state’s seafood industry.
Of the 71.2 million pounds of seafood sold to dealers last year, nearly half, or 32.9 million pounds, were hard blue crabs, according to the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries’ Trip Ticket Program. Hard crabs also contributed $25 million to the $87 million total dockside value of seafood in 2008, a $4 million increase from the 2007 total.
“Although crab pot trips were down from last year, the winter crab trawl fishery was very good, contributing to the increased landings of hard blue crabs compared to 2007,” said Alan Bianchi, the state Division of Marine Fisheries’ Commercial Statistics program manager.
The 57 percent increase in blue crab harvest contributed to a 34 percent increase in overall shellfish landings, which also saw steady shrimp catches. The shrimp harvest declined by 1 percent, but the landings were still 64 percent higher than the previous five-year average.
“In the shrimp fishery, the high fuel prices during the fall likely led to the decline in the number of shrimp and skimmer trawl trips in 2008,” Bianchi said.
Oyster harvest increased by 5 percent, from 83,446 bushels to 88,008 bushels.
Commercial finfish landings, however, fell by 9 percent to 27.6 million pounds. This included a 59 percent drop in yellowfin tuna harvests, a 30 percent drop in swordfish harvests and a 17 percent drop in bluefish harvests. Conversely, there was a significant increase in tilefish landings, which were the highest on record at 404,295 pounds. Triggerfish landings also increased by 28 percent.
Likewise, the recreational fishing sector saw declines in finfish harvests in 2008.
The number of recreational finfish caught dropped about 18 percent to 12 million while the number of recreational fishing trips remained roughly the same, at 7 million, according to North Carolina Marine Recreational Fishery Statistics Survey estimates.
“There was a decline in for-hire and private boat trips, but an increase in shore and pier fishing,” said Doug Mumford, the state Division of Marine Fisheries’ recreational statistics program manager. “It appears the high fuel prices and other economic factors may have influenced fishermen to choose the piers, with blanket fishing licenses, over their boats.”
Dolphinfish remained the top recreational species with 3.6 million pounds (405,784 fish) caught, followed by groupers at 1.2 million pounds (99,468 fish), bluefish at 1 million pounds (1.3 million fish), striped bass at 921,051 pounds ( 44,006 fish) and spotted seatrout at 911,097 pounds (576,703 fish).
A full report of landings statistics can be found in the division’s Annual Fisheries Bulletin. For more information on commercial landings, contact Bianchi at (252) 808-8092 or Alan.Bianchi@ncdenr.gov. For more information on recreational landings, contact Doug Mumford at (252) 948-3876 or Doug.Mumford@ncdenr.gov.