For more than a decade, the decline of gray trout (weakfish) in Virginia and other Mid Atlantic states has been the subject of research. The most recent Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) weakfish assessment provides stakeholders with clues about the decline of this once popular sport fish.
According to the 2016 Weakfish Benchmark Stock Assessment and Peer Review Report, weakfish is depleted and has been for the past 13 years. While the assessment indicates some positive signs in the weakfish stock in the most recent years, with a slight increase in SSB and total abundance, the stock is still well below the SSB threshold.
The assessment indicates natural mortality has been increasing since the mid-1990s, from approximately 0.16 in the early 1980s to an average of 0.93 from 2007-2014. The assessment concludes that, even though fishing mortality has been at low levels in recent years, the weakfish population has been experiencing very high levels of total mortality, which is preventing the stock from recovering.
The recreational fishery for weakfish has declined from over 11 million pounds in 1983 to roughly 77,000 pounds in 2014. Recreational harvest has been dominated by New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina.
Commercial landings of weakfish have dramatically declined since the early 1980s, dropping from over 19 million pounds landed in 1982 to roughly 200,000 pounds in 2014. The majority of landings occur in North Carolina and Virginia. Discarding of weakfish by commercial fishermen is known to occur but have declined in recent years as the result of management measures and a decline in stock abundance.
For more information on the 2016 Weakfish Benchmark Stock Assessment, visit the ASMFC website (www.asmfc.org).
source: Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission