MOREHEAD CITY – A warm autumn kept commercial fishermen catching and selling shrimp up to New Year’s Eve last year, boosting 2016 shrimp landings to the highest since the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries’ Trip Ticket Program began in 1994.
But overall, the 60 million pounds of finfish and shellfish commercial fishermen caught and sold at the docks was a 9 percent decrease from 2015. The total estimated dockside value of $94 million was about $700,000 short of the 2015 value.
The 2016 landings were higher than the five-year average of 59 million pounds, and the five-year average value of $86 million.
The Trip Ticket Program collects commercial fishing landings statistics through legislatively-mandated reporting of all fisherman to dealer transactions.
As usual, hard blue crabs topped the list of species landed (24.7 million pounds), followed by shrimp (13.2 million pounds), spiny dogfish (2.3 million pounds), Atlantic croaker (2.1 million pounds) and summer flounder (2.1 million pounds).
Commercial shrimp landings in 2016 increased by 45 percent to 13.2 million pounds, which had an estimated dockside value of $28 million. Shrimp landings were good all year; fishermen exceeded 2015 monthly landings in every month of 2016, except June and July. In December, dealers purchased 1.7 million pounds of shrimp from fishermen, which was 341 percent more than was purchased in December 2015.
The increase in annual shrimp landings was accompanied by an 18.7 percent increase in overall shrimp fishing trips in 2016. Also, landings from state ocean waters north of Cape Hatteras greatly increased in 2016 – nearly 11,000 percent over the previous year. Reports from dealers indicated an unusual abundance of shrimp in these northern, nearshore waters.
Landings of tilefish, spotted seatrout, squid and black drum also increased.
However, landings of blue crabs dropped by 21 percent from 2015 landings, bringing it back in line with the five-year average of around 25.7 million pounds. Landings of hard blue crabs decreased by 20.4 percent, landings of soft blue crabs decreased by 25.1 percent and landings of peeler blue crabs decreased by 36.9 percent.
While overall oyster landings increased 3.6 percent in 2016, the higher landings came from a 99 percent jump in landings from private leases. Public bottom landings dropped by 25 percent, possibly impacted by various environmental conditions leading to lower reproduction and growth over the past few years, as well as more shellfish water closures.
Landings can fluctuate from year-to year based on many factors, including environmental conditions, market changes and fishing effort.
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