The 2009 stock assessment for red drum indicates that abundance of young fish for both the northern (New Jersey to North Carolina) and southern (South Carolina to Florida) populations has been stable since 2000. The stock assessment concluded that sufficient numbers of young fish are surviving to move offshore and join the adult spawning population, indicating that overfishing is unlikely.
The red drum’s peculiar life history presents a challenge to assessment of the fish’s status. Relatively little is known about the adult spawning population, the fish that are 4 years and older, as they live offshore where fishing for red drum is prohibited under federal law. As such, there is little information on these fish. Existing data are largely for the juveniles, ages 1 to 3, which are found in inshore waters. Fishery-dependent information is constrained by the fisheries slot limit, which ranges anywhere from 15 to 27 inches, and is supplied by multiple state surveys.
The result of these challenges is a stock assessment that adequately describes the pre-adult red drum population, but provides no reliable information on the adults.
In the northern region, inshore populations increased from 1990 to 2000 after which they widely fluctuated. The initial increase in abundance of these age groups can be explained by the reduction in exploitation rates (i.e., more restrictive fishing regulations) in the early part of the time series, with relative stability since then. Fishing pressure appears to be stable, and there is a high probability that the stock is not subject to overfishing. It is likely that the fishing mortality rate is at or above its target.
In the southern region, abundance of age 1- to 3-year-old red drum increased from 1989 to 1992, declined during 1992 to 1998 and has fluctuated thereafter. As with the northern stock, the initial increase in abundance can be explained by the reduction in exploitation. There appears to have been a slight increase in exploitation rates since 1990.
Given these findings, the Commission’s South Atlantic State-Federal Fisheries Management Board saw no need to change the current management program. A detailed description of the stock assessment results will be “available by mid-December at www.asmfc.org under Breaking News.”