Estimation of harvest rates is often a critical component of fishery stock assessment and management. These assessments are often based on catch-at-age data sets generated over many years, but estimates of instantaneous fishing mortality (F) can also be obtained from a shorter-term tag return study. We conducted a 2-year tag return experiment to generate direct estimates of F for southern flounder Paralichthys lethostigma in a North Carolina estuary. The southern flounder supports lucrative commercial and recreational fisheries within the state and has experienced heavy fishing pressure for more than a decade. During 2005 and 2006, fish were captured and tagged with the assistance of commercial harvesters in the New River estuary. Tag returns were used to generate monthly estimates of F, which demonstrated a clear seasonal pattern that was consistent between years. Several important assumptions of the tag return model were accounted for through the use of double-tagged individuals, the distribution of both high- and standard-reward tags, and the completion of an independent controlled experiment to evaluate mortality related to tagging. Annual estimates of F exceeded the short-term management target in both years. Residual patterns suggest that the estimates may actually have been biased low, possibly due to delayed mixing of tagged fish. Thus, despite recently amended fishery regulations, F in the North Carolina southern flounder gill-net fishery still has the potential to greatly exceed targeted levels, which may delay stock recovery. Tag return studies can provide reliable (and nearly real-time) information about F and natural mortality as long as the experimental design addresses specific assumptions related to tagging-induced mortality, tag shedding, and nonreporting of tags.
|Title||Fishing mortality in North Carolina's southern flounder fishery: direct estimates of instantaneous fishing mortality from a tag return experiment|
|Authors||William E. Smith, Frederick S. Scharf, Joseph E. Hightower|
|Publication Subtype||Journal Article|
|Series Title||Marine and Coastal Fisheries: Dynamics, Management, and Ecosystem Science|
|Record Source||USGS Publications Warehouse|
|USGS Organization||Coop Res Unit Atlanta|