Island in the Stream: Oceanography and Fisheries of the Charleston Bump

Assessment of the Wreckfish Fishery on the Blake Plateau

Douglas S. Vaughan, Charles S. Manooch III, and Jennifer C. Potts


Abstract.—The status of the wreckfish Polyprion americanus stock caught on the Blake Plateau in the southeastern United States Atlantic was analyzed by calibrated virtual population analysis (VPA) to estimate trends in fishing mortality and population (or stock) biomass. Calibration of the FADAPT VPA program was to fishery-dependent catch-per-unit effort (CPUE) for a range in assumed values for natural mortality (M). Age-length keys were developed from two aging studies of wreckfish (1988– 1992 and 1995–1998). Keys were developed annually (pooled across seasons to create three “annual” age-length keys to represent 1988–1990, 1991–1993, and 1994–1998) and seasonally (pooled across years to create three seasonal age-length keys to represent April–June, July–September, and October to end of fishing year on 15 January). Analyses based on both annual and seasonal catch matrices showed similar patterns and values, with the seasonal catch matrix producing slightly lower estimates of fishing mortality rates (F) and higher estimates of biological reference points based on F. Fishing mortality rates peaked in 1989, as did the maximum annual U.S. landings (4.2 million pounds). Subsequently, both landings and fishing mortality rates have generally declined. Although stock biomass has generally declined over the study period, recruitment at age 7 has risen since about 1994. Meanwhile, annual estimates of static spawning potential ratio (SPR), which are inversely related to F, have risen since 1994. Fishing mortality rates from recent low landings are at or near the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council’s threshold definition of overfishing (static SPR of 30%), while the process of rebuilding with improving recruitment appears to be underway. Concern persists because the assessment is based on the underlying assumption that wreckfish from the Blake Plateau form a single stock separate from the eastern North Atlantic and genetic evidence suggests the stock encompasses the entire North Atlantic.