Black Drum

Life History

Black drum (Pogonias cromis) can be found in nearshore waters along the Atlantic coast from the Gulf of Maine to Florida and as far south as Argentina. Atlantic coast black drum migrate inshore to the north in the spring, and to the south in the fall. Fish can reach over 46", 120 pounds and 60 years of age. They grow rapidly until the age of 15, at which time growth slows.

Spawning occurs during the winter and early spring, occurring earlier in the southern areas (November - April) and later in the northern areas (April - June). An average-sized female (13.4 pounds) may spawn 32 million eggs each year. Recruitment appears to be sporadic, with infrequent large events.

Black drum are primarily bottom feeders. Young black drum feed on small fish and invertebrates, such as copepods, annelids, and amphipods. The eggs and larvae of this species were shown to be subject to high predation. As juveniles, they are prey to a wide range of estuarine fish species, such as spotted seatrout and crevalle jack.

Commercial & Recreational Fisheries

Black Drum

With sizes reaching over 46 inches in length and 120 pounds in weight, black drum are drawing increasing interest from recreational anglers, particularly as a catch and release fishery. Outside of a large peak in 2008, recreational and commercial landings have remained fairly stable since 2000, with recreational landings far exceeding (typically 20-30 times) those of commercial (by weight). On average, in the past 10 years (2012-2021), recreational landings made up 96% of the total coastwide harvest.

Recreational landings in 2021 were 5.7 million pounds, or 879,468 fish, with landed fish constituting roughly 27% of all black drum caught by the fishery. The other 73% of recreationally caught fish were released alive, largely due to the establishment of the Fishery Management Plan in 2013. In 2021, 2,324,886 fish were released alive. Florida, followed by North Carolina and South Carolina landed and released the majority of recreational harvest in 2021.

The commercial fishery landed 243,290 pounds in 2021. North Carolina, Virginia, and Florida fisheries comprised the majority of total commercial harvest. 

Stock Status

Black Drum

The first coastwide benchmark stock assessment for black drum was performed in 2014 and approved for management use in 2015. Based on assessment results, black drum is not overfished and not experiencing overfishing. The median biomass is estimated to be declining slowly, though it is still estimated to be well above that necessary to produce maximum sustainable yield.

Black drum are a data-poor species. Their rarity and complex migratory patterns lead to highly variable levels of encounter in state surveys and fisheries. Further, limited size composition data has been collected, making the use of age-structured models unreliable. For these reasons, data-poor, catch-based modeling methods were used for the assessment. These models estimate reference points based on historical catch data and life history information.

A new benchmark assessment for black drum was started in late 2021, with an estimated competition date of late 2022. The assessment will be incorporating the recalibrated MRIP data into the assessment to provide updated reference points for management.

Atlantic Coastal Management

In 2013, the Commission adopted the Interstate Fishery Management Plan (FMP) for Black Drum, which requires all states to implement a maximum possession limit and a minimum size limit of no less than 14 inches in addition to maintaining their previous regulations. Further, the FMP establishes a management framework to address future concerns or changes in the fishery or population.

The FMP also includes a management framework to adaptively respond to future concerns or changes in the fishery or population. Concern about the increase in harvest by both recreational and commercial fishermen in recent years was alleviated by the findings of the 2015 stock assessment. Given the assessment findings, the Board chose to not make any additional changes to the management program at that time.

In March 2017, a report on Sciaenid Fish Habitat was released including information on habitat for several species, including black drum, during all stages of their lives, their associated Essential Fish Habitats and Habitat Areas of Particular Concern, threats and uncertainties to their habitats, and recommendations for habitat management and research. This report is meant to be a resource when amending FMPs in the future for these species.

The Board approved Addendum I to the Black Drum FMP in May 2018. The Addendum allows Maryland to reopen its black drum commercial fishery in the Chesapeake Bay with a daily vessel limit of up to 10 fish and a 28-inch minimum size.

Meeting Summaries & Reports