A session at a recent symposium on sustainable seafood focused on scup as a plentiful and sustainable yet underutilized fish species found throughout New England. To illustrate scup’s market potential, the interactive session featured a side-by-side taste test of scup and tilapia—a freshwater, farm-raised fish that is very popular due to its low cost and mild flavor. Participants discovered the lesser known scup has a subtle, delicious flavor and is an excellent alternative to more popular white fish. Session organizers are now working on getting scup into more restaurants and markets in New England.
- Ocean perch
- Sea Bass
- Turbot (Greenland)
ALSO KNOWN AS:
Porgy, Maiden, Fair Maid, Ironsides, Northern Porgy
U.S. wild-caught from Massachusetts to North Carolina
- FISHING RATE
- HABITAT IMPACTS
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Measuring scup.LAUNCH GALLERY
A small and mild-tasting fish, scup has been harvested off the East Coast since colonial times. More recently, due to heavy fishing pressure and the incidental catch of scup in other fisheries, the scup resource reached relatively low levels in the 1990s. In response, federal and state fishery managers jointly implemented a number of regulations that restricted both commercial and recreational harvest of this species. They also seasonally closed certain areas to fisheries that incidentally caught scup. As a result, scup abundance increased 30-fold from 1997 to 2008. Scup was declared officially rebuilt in 2009. Today, fisheries for scup operate under measures to ensure the species is not overharvested again. Scientists monitor abundance of scup annually through surveys and work with the fishing industry on research projects to improve knowledge of the resource and the management of the fishery.
LOCATION & HABITAT
Scup are found in the Northwest Atlantic Ocean, primarily between Cape Cod and Cape Hatteras. Their eggs and larvae are found in the water column in coastal waters during warmer months. As larvae mature, they settle to the seafloor and develop into juveniles. Juveniles live in a variety of habitats including rocky ledges; artificial reefs; mussel beds; sand, silty-sand, shell, and mud bottoms; and eelgrass. During the summer and early fall, juveniles and adults are common in large estuaries, open sandy bottoms, and structured habitats such as mussel beds, reefs, or rock rubble. Scup migrate north and inshore to spawn in the spring, then migrate south and offshore in autumn as the water cools, arriving by December in offshore areas where they spend the winter.
Scup grow slowly, up to 1-1/2 feet long and 3 pounds. They can live a relatively long time, up to about 20 years. Scup are able to reproduce when they reach age 2, when they’re about 8 inches long. They spawn over weedy or sandy areas in southern New England from Massachusetts Bay south to the New York Bight from May through August, with peak activity in June. Individual scup spawn once a year. Scientists believe scup spawn in the morning, unlike most fish that spawn at night. Females release an average of 7,000 eggs, which are fertilized externally.
Scup are browsers – they nibble on invertebrates that live on the ocean bottom. They’re able to grasp food with their incisors and crush hard-shelled animals with their strong molars. A variety of plankton-eaters, including medusae, crustaceans, and fish, prey on scup larvae. A variety of fish and shorebirds prey on juveniles and adult scup.
Scup are deep-bodied (deeper from back to belly than they are wide) and dusky brown with bright silvery reflections below and spiny fins. Adult fins are mottled with dark brown, and young scup fins may be faintly barred. Scup’s front teeth are very narrow, almost conical, and they have two rows of molars in the upper jaw. Longspine porgy look similar to scup, but can be easily identified by the elongated spines on their backs.
Scientists from NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center conduct bottom trawl surveys annually in the spring and fall in waters just south of Cape Hatteras to Canadian waters. Results from these surveys, along with data from state- and university-run surveys, help them estimate the abundance of scup and other species in the Mid-Atlantic and New England.
With greatly improved reproduction and survival rates, and low fishing rates since 1998, Mid-Atlantic spawning stock biomass (a measure of the amount of scup able to reproduce) has steadily increased since the mid-1990s, up to 186,262 metric tons in 2010, well above the target level of 92,044 metric tons.
With the fishing industry, the Northeast Fisheries Science Center runs a Scup Tagging Cooperative Research Program to examine the movement patterns of scup, incorporate fishermen’s knowledge into fish stock research, and estimate the amount of scup removed by fishing. The Center’s Fishery Observer Program has collected information on landings and discards in the commercial scup fishery for over 20 years.
About 75 percent of the commercial harvest of scup is caught with otter trawls. Otter trawls tow a cone-shaped net along the seafloor. Large, rectangular doors keep the wide mouth of the net open. The catch is gathered in the narrow, “cod end” of the net.
The rest of the commercial harvest is mainly caught with floating traps and hand lines. Floating traps are anchored to the bottom in inshore waters in the migratory path of scup. Fishermen check on the traps daily to sort their catch. Hand lines work exactly as you would expect – fishermen deploy single lines with baited hooks and haul in fish by hand.
Paired trawl, pound nets, and pots catch a small percentage of the harvest.
Who’s in charge? The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission and the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council jointly develop management measures for the scup fisheries in state and federal waters north of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. Individual states may set different regulations for the commercial scup fishery. Where state measures differ from federal regulations, federally permitted fishery participants must adhere to the more restrictive measures. NOAA Fisheries implements and enforces management measures.
Current management: Summer Flounder, Scup and Black Sea Bass Fishery Management Plan.
- Managers set an annual commercial quota that is divided into three harvest periods: Winter I (January–April), Summer (May–October) and Winter II (November–December). NOAA Fisheries monitors the commercial harvests and closes scup fisheries when the quotas are reached.
- Minimum size limits to prevent the harvest of young fish that likely haven’t yet reproduced.
- Minimum mesh size requirements for trawl nets to reduce bycatch of undersized scup.
- Scup pots and traps must have degradable hinges and escape vents to reduce bycatch and to prevent “ghost fishing” (when a lost trap continues to catch fish or lobster).
- A moratorium on entry into the fishery.
A small amount of scup is harvested incidentally in snapper/grouper fisheries in the South Atlantic (south of Cape Hatteras). The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council includes scup in their Snapper Grouper Fishery Management Plan, which requires fishermen to have a permit and to comply with gear restrictions.
Current landings of scup are a fraction of what they used to be. U.S. commercial landings averaged over 18,000 metric tons annually in the 1950s and mid-1960s, peaking at over 22,000 metric tons in 1960. They subsequently decreased to about 1,200 metric tons in 2000, less than 6 percent of the peak in 1960. Commercial landings have since increased a bit and totaled 4,855 metric tons in 2010. The majority is landed in Rhode Island, New Jersey, and New York. The recreational fishery for scup catches a significant portion of the total landings, almost 35 percent in 2010.
Commercial scup landings in 2010 were valued at $7.03 million in 2010 ($0.66/pound). The value of commercial landings of scup from 2008 to 2010 averaged $6.36 million, with an average ex-vessel price of $0.79/pound.
There is a major recreational fishery for scup. The 2010 recreational harvest of 2,605 metric tons made up almost 35 percent of the total scup harvest. Most recreational landings come from Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New York.
In the Mid-Atlantic and southern New England, the recreational scup fishery is managed under separate regulations for federal and state waters. Managers set regulations for the recreational fishery annually; they usually include a combination of an annual catch quota, minimum size limits, bag limits, and fishing seasons. For-hire recreational vessels must have a permit. In the South Atlantic, there is a limit on the amount of scup recreational fishermen can keep and restrictions on the type of gear they can use.
Scup have lean and flaky flesh, but also contain many bones, which makes them difficult to fillet. As a result, scup are generally sold and cooked whole, after they’ve been scaled and dressed. In fact, scup is often referred to as a “pan fish,” because its small size is excellent for pan frying or sautéing whole.
Scup is a low-sodium, low-fat source of protein. It is high in niacin, phosphorus, vitamins B6 and B12, and selenium.
|Serving Weight||100 g (raw)|
|Fat, total||2.73 g|
|Saturated fatty acids, total||0.64 g|
|Sugars, total||0 g|
|Fiber, total dietary||0 g|
Scup Table of Nutrition