What Do Fish Tell Us?
- Weakfish commercially harvested by gillnets, otter trawl, and pound nets are landed at a commercial dock for sale to the public. Landings (in pounds) are reported through an online electronic reporting system by dealers.
- When landings occur, Atlantic Coastal Cooperative Statistics Program staff in New Jersey arrive at commercial docks and collect random samples of the day’s catch. Generally 100 samples per trip are collected. Measurements taken include weight and length of each fish. Fish ear bones (otoliths) are removed for aging, processed, then aged like counting the rings of a tree trunk’s cross-section.
- The age and all other physical data collected are combined into the state biological characterization database.
- All age, length and weight data is provided to Fish and Wildlife’s stock assessment biologists for inclusion in the coastwide stock assessment. This assessment combines biological data from all east coast states that sample for weakfish including Rhode Island, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina. The stock assessment looks at the data in a multitude of ways such as by region, state, year, gear type and season. Landings are converted from total pounds landed to total number of fish landed by age. This type of analysis is called an age structured stock assessment and helps biologists estimate fishing mortality, biomass, recruitment and the overall status of the stock by individual age classes of the fish.
- Once the stock assessment models are completed, the findings are sent for peer review through an independent scientific organization.
- If the peer review finds the assessment is sound in its approach, the findings are presented to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission Weakfish Management Board (the Board).
- The Board accepts the assessment and discusses the findings to determine if a management strategy change is appropriate. If necessary, the Board sends the decision back to the Weakfish Technical Committee, which must create management options such as trip limits, bag limits, seasons and/or size limits.
- Once the management options are approved by the Board, the options are presented for public comment. The Board considers all public comment when making final management decisions. The new management strategy is then communicated to all east coast states for agency implementation.
- States are required to implement the new management strategy and the associated actions. If failure to implement occurs on the state level, that state is found to be out of compliance and the state’s fishery is closed. See page 6 for more on the 2010 New Jersey weakfish management plan.
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