The National Marine Fisheries Service closed the recreational cobia season on Tuesday in waters more than 3 miles off the beach along the Atlantic coast from the Georgia-Florida line north to New York, reacting to a second-consecutive year of over-the-limit catches of the popular nearshore fish.
NMFS said that recreational cobia landings in 2016 were 1.33 million pounds, more than double the allowable catch of 670,000. The commercial catch in 2016 was 48,904 pounds.
NMFS closed the season early last year because 2015 landings were even higher: 1.55 million pounds recreationally and 82,848 pounds commercially.
Only 13 percent of all cobia landings occur in federal waters; the remainder are taken in state waters within 3 miles of the shoreline. Agencies in affected states will set their own management goals for waters they manage.
NMFS’s closure in federal waters is an attempt to keep total landings below the catch limit in 2017. Much will depend, however, on how fisheries agencies in affected states manage cobia with creel limits and size minimums.
Recreational cobia fishing in North Carolina waters closed last Sept. 30 but reopened Jan. 1 with a 33-inch minimum size (fork length) and a 2-fish creel limit. North Carolina officials were expected to review management options at a meeting of the N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission in late February.
Cobia season in South Carolina waters will remain open until the 2017 catch limit is reached, except for a May 1-31 closure south of Jeremy’s Inlet on Edisto Island.
Commercial fishermen have a 50,000-pound allowable catch limit for 2017; they are allowed to catch, keep and sell two fish per day from federal waters, and their season can be closed if the catch limit is exceeded.