Life History

Scup (Stenotomus chrysops) are a migratory, schooling species found on the continental shelf of the Northwest Atlantic, commonly inhabiting waters from Cape Cod, Massachusetts to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. The abundance of scup in a specific area is frequently influenced by water temperature. Scup prefer temperatures greater than 45 degrees F and are most frequently encountered in water temperatures from 55 to 77 degrees F.

Scup overwinter in offshore waters from southern New Jersey to Cape Hatteras. When water temperatures begin to rise in spring and summer scup migrate to more northern and inshore waters to spawn. Spawning areas include locations from southern New England to Long Island, New York. Large fish arrive to the spawning grounds first, followed by successive waves of smaller individuals, suggesting that scup school by size. Larval scup are pelagic and are found in coastal waters during warmer months. Juvenile scup use a variety of coastal habitats and can dominate the overall fish population in large estuarine areas during the summer months.

Commercial & Recreational Fisheries


Scup are highly sought after by commercial and recreational fishermen throughout Southern New England and the Mid-Atlantic. Scup support commercial fisheries from Massachusetts to North Carolina. Commercial landings peaked in 1960 at 48.9 million pounds, and then ranged between 8.8 and 21.7 million pounds until the late 1980s. Landings increased to 15.6 million pounds in 1991, then dropped to the lowest landings measured in the fishery in 2000 at 2.7 million pounds. Starting in 2001, landings increased to about 15.0 million pounds in 2011. Since 2011, commercial landings have varied between 12.1 million pounds (2022) and 17.9 million pounds (2013). In 2022, commercial landings were 60% of the commercial quota. Since 1979, commercial landings have largely come from Rhode Island (38%), New York (26%), and New Jersey (14%). Commercial discards have been highly variable during most of the past 3 decades, averaging 26% of the total commercial catch during 1981-2022. In absolute terms, discards reached their highest level in 2017 recording 10.4 million pounds. The time series low of approximately 1 million pounds of discards occurred in 2003.

The recreational fishery for scup is significant, with anglers accounting for 12 to 75 percent of total annual catches from 1981-2022. Prior to 1996 when the Commission and the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council adopted the Scup Fishery Management Plan, recreational landings ranged from 2.3 million pounds and 14.2 million pounds. After the FMP was approved, recreational harvest remained low for a few years around 2-4 million pounds, which helped lead the way for spawning stock biomass (SSB) to recover in the early 2000s. Since the regional recreational management approach was introduced in 2003, recreational landings have averaged 11.2 million pounds annually. In 2022, recreational anglers harvested 17.4 million pounds, with the majority of the harvest coming from the northern states Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey.

Stock Status


The 2023 management track stock assessment indicated the stock is not overfished nor experiencing overfishing. SSB estimated at 426 million pounds in 2022 is over two times the target of 173 million pounds.

Since 1984, recruitment (e.g., the number of fish entering the population) estimates are influenced mainly by the fishery and survey catches-at-age, and were estimated at 106 million fish in the terminal year of the assessment (2022). The 2015 year class is estimated to be the largest of the time series, at 569 million age 0 fish. Below average recruitment occurred in 2017-2022. Stock biomass is projected to further decrease toward the target unless more above average year classes recruit to the stock in the short-term.

Atlantic Coastal Management


Recreational angler with scup. Photo credit: Mark Terceiro, NMFS NEFSC.

Scup are one of four species jointly managed by the Commission and the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council (MAFMC). Scup are managed under Amendment 13 to the Summer Flounder, Scup and Black Sea Bass Fishery Management Plan (August 2002) and its subsequent Addenda (Addenda IX - XXXI). The management program divides a total annual quota between the recreational fishery and the commercial fishery. Recreational fishery management measures include a combination of minimum size limits, bag limits, and fishing seasons. Since 2003, the states of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New York have formed a northern region when setting their recreational regulations. This regional approach enables greater consistency between the states where fishermen from different states are often fishing alongside each other in the same waters.

Addendum XXIX (2017) shortens the length of the commercial scup summer period and extends the length of the winter II period to allow for the better utilization of the commercial quota, which was under-harvested in recent years. The following new quota periods were implemented beginning in 2018: Winter 1, January 1‐April 30 (120 days); Summer, May 1‐September 30 (153 days); Winter II, October 1‐December 31 (92 days).

Addendum XXXI (2018) expands the suite of tools available for managing summer flounder, scup and black sea bass, and reduces inconsistencies between state and federal regulations. Further, through the Addendum, the Board recommended NOAA Fisheries implement regulations to allow transit through federal waters in Block Island Sound for non-federally permitted vessels in possession of summer flounder, scup and black sea bass.

In 2021, the Board and Council jointly approved changes to the commercial and recreational allocations of summer flounder, scup, and black sea bass (Amendment 22). These changes are intended to better reflect the current understanding of the historic proportions of catch and landings from the commercial and recreational sectors. The Board and Council developed this amendment in response to recent changes in how recreational catch is estimated by the Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP), which resulted in a revised time series of recreational data going back to the 1980s. This created a mismatch between the data that were used to set the allocations and the data currently used in management for setting catch limits. Amendment 22 allocates 35% of the acceptable biological catch to the recreational fishery and 65% of the ABC to the commercial fishery based on historical landings from 1988 through 1992.

The Board and Council have set new specifications for 2024-2025. The 2024 commercial quota is 21.12 million pounds and the recreational harvest limit (RHL) is 13.18 million pounds. For 2025, the Council and Board approved a commercial quota of 18.80 million pounds and an RHL of 11.84 million pounds. Compared to 2023 landings limits, this represents an increase in the commercial quota and the RHL. No changes were made to the commercial measures for 2024-2025.

Harvest Control Rule

In June 2022, the Commission’s Interstate Fisheries Management Program Policy Board (Policy Board) and MAFMC approved changes to the recreational fisheries management programs for summer flounder, scup, black sea bass, and bluefish. The changes include a new process for setting recreational measures (bag, size, and season limits) and modifications to the recreational accountability measures. The Policy Board and MAFMC recommended these changes through a framework action, and the Policy Board adopted the new process through Addendum XXXIV to the Summer Flounder, Scup, and Black Sea Bass Fishery Management Plan (FMP) and Addendum II to the Bluefish FMP.  Approval of this new process is part of a broader long-term effort by both the Commission and MAFMC to improve recreational management of these four species. The new management program aims to provide greater stability and predictability in recreational measures from year-to-year while accounting for uncertainty in recreational catch estimates.

The Policy Board and MAFMC considered a range of management options and ultimately selected one referred to as the “Percent Change Approach,” with an agreement to continue development of several other options for possible implementation by 2026. Under the selected approach, managers will consider two factors when determining whether recreational measures should be restricted, liberalized, or remain unchanged for the next two years. First, they will look at how recreational harvest limits (RHLs) for the next two years compare to recent estimates of recreational harvest. This gives an indication of whether recreational harvest is likely to exceed the RHL if management measures remain unchanged. Next, managers will consider the most recent estimate of stock size relative to the target stock size. These two factors, in combination, will be used to determine the percentage change in harvest that management measures should aim to achieve.

Under the new process, when recent harvest estimates are close to the future RHL, management measures will either remain unchanged or be reduced or liberalized by 10%, depending on stock size relative to the target. In cases where the RHL is substantially above or below recent harvest estimates, the specific reduction or liberalization will vary based on stock size and will either be fixed at 10% or will be based on the difference between recent harvest and the RHL but capped at 20% or 40% (see table on page 11 for additional details). The Policy Board and MAFMC selected this option because it uses currently available data and gives additional consideration to stock status when making management decisions. Under this approach, changes will be considered every other year when new scientific information about the stock is available.

While the Percent Change Approach is similar in some ways to the current process for setting recreational measures, there are several key differences. To account for uncertainty in recreational data, future RHLs will be evaluated relative to the confidence intervals around recent recreational harvest estimates. A confidence interval indicates the range of possible values given the statistical uncertainties around the estimate. The new process also places greater emphasis on stock status, potentially reducing the magnitude of restrictions in measures when the stock status is healthy. Finally, the new process will provide greater stability, as measures will be set for two years at a time instead of every year. 

The Policy Board and MAFMC acknowledged this approach will not solve all recreational fisheries management challenges. With this in mind, they agreed to continue refinement of the Percent Change Approach as well as two other options considered within the Draft Framework/Addenda, with particular emphasis on using improved statistical models to develop measures. Use of the approved Percent Change Approach will sunset no later than the end of 2025 with a goal of implementing a new and improved approach to managing the recreational fisheries by the beginning of 2026.

The Policy Board and MAFMC also revised the recreational accountability measures for all four species. Specifically, when biomass is between the target and threshold levels, the requirement of paying back recreational catch limit overages will account for whether those overages contributed to overfishing based on the most recent stock assessment information.

The Policy Board and MAFMC considered but did not recommend an option to set constraints around the use of the Commission’s conservation equivalency policy as applied to the recreational fisheries for these four species. They decided to maintain the current policy to allow individual states the flexibility to tailor management measures to meet the needs of their fisheries.

The Framework/Addenda’s changes to the recreational management program are final for state waters (0-3 miles from shore) and will be used to develop 2023 recreational measures for summer flounder, scup, and black sea bass. The new process will not be used for bluefish until the stock is declared rebuilt. The Council has submitted the framework to NOAA Fisheries for review, approval, and implementation.

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