Spot, a favorite catch for many recreational anglers, gets its name from the dark marking behind both gills. It’s a fish with a relatively short lifespan that spawns in the ocean but spends much of its life in estuarine waters, and spot can be found as far north as the Gulf of Maine to as far south as Florida.
In general, commercial harvests of spot have been on the decline since 2001, with recreational catch totals fluctuating throughout the years.
The UNCW Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship’s Alliance for the Blue Economy establishes southeastern North Carolina as a national leader in the sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, while preserving the health of the ecosystem. UNCW is an EEO/AA Institution.
Spot is managed as a coastwide species because it is found far beyond the boundaries of any one state. The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, or the ASMFC, oversees multistate management of spot from Delaware to Florida. The ASMFC makes the ultimate management decisions, and then it is up to the individual states to meet the prescribed requirements.
The ASMFC’s first spot management plan was implemented in 1987. Since then, the plan has been amended a few times, and in 2014, the plan was altered to include a management technique called the Traffic Light Approach. This technique was updated again in 2020.
The Traffic Light Approach uses harvest and abundance metrics to identify thresholds that trigger certain management actions.
The 2020 Traffic Light Analysis Review of spot triggered at the 30% threshold. This is categorized as “moderate concern.” The harvest and abundance indices that the Traffic Light Analysis uses were above 30% for two of the previous three years. This triggered two specific management actions.
At a minimum, states have to reduce commercial harvest by 1% of the average state commercial harvest for the previous 10 years, and institute a 50-fish bag limit in the recreational sector. North Carolina’s bag limit is in place, and there’s a commercial season closure in effect from Dec. 10, 2021, through April 4. Management actions are required to be in place for a minimum of two years. According to the ASMFC, work on the next coastwide stock assessment will likely begin next year and be completed in 2024.
“States can still choose to have more strenuous measures in place, but at the bare minimum, you have to follow what ASMFC guidance is putting out,” Paris said.
Fortunately for commercial fishermen, the winter months are not the typical time for harvesting spot anyway. This was an intentional decision, said Paris. They wanted the imposed restriction to help the species without negatively impacting fishermen.
Spot are nearly ubiquitous in the shallow waters of the Bay in warm months and the perfect quarry for beginning anglers. Small, but good eating, and easy to catch, they are targeted both as a food and a bait fish, where they are nearly the perfect size and flavor for live lining for Striped Bass and Sea Trout (Bluefish like them too, but nearly always clip them off the hook without getting caught themselves.
I never imagined we would be worrying about Spot abundances on the the Atlantic seaboard. That suggests something is seriously wrong somewhere.