Wreckfish

Wreckfish

Polyprion americanus

ALSO KNOWN AS:

    Sea Bass, Stone Bass

SOURCE:

    U.S. wild-caught, mostly from waters off South Carolina
 

STATUS

  • POPULATION
  • FISHING RATE
  • HABITAT IMPACTS
  • BYCATCH
 

Click the icons to learn more about each criteria

 
 

OVERVIEW

Wreckfish in Lophelia reefs

Wreckfish, such as this one, are believed to use deep Lophelia reefs found on the Blake Plateau as a safe haven. These coral habitats offer both shelter and food.

LAUNCH GALLERY

Although wreckfish are found all along the East Coast, most commercial landings are from the Charleston Bump, a deepwater bank located 80 to 100 miles southeast of Charleston, South Carolina. Some wreckfish are also harvested off the Florida Keys.

A cousin of grouper and sea bass, wreckfish were first harvested by accident in the South Atlantic in the early 1980s. Since wreckfish are typically found in deep water near sheltered structures, they had previously not been targeted. A fisherman was using longline gear to try to recover lost equipment and caught a wreckfish by mistake. The commercial fishery for wreckfish developed a few years later in 1987, with just two vessels landing the species in South Carolina. The fishery grew rapidly, expanding to 25 fishing vessels by 1989 and as many as 80 vessels by 1990. Because scientists knew little about wreckfish, there was concern that this resource could not support high fishing rates. Managers placed a 2-million-pound yearly cap on the amount of wreckfish that could be harvested and closed the fishery from mid-January to mid-April when wreckfish spawn. However, these measures resulted in a derby fishery, with increased competition to catch and land wreckfish, resulting in gluts of product in the market. With more than 80 vessels fishing for wreckfish in the relatively small areas known to have concentrations of the species, conflicts among fishermen and safety issues emerged.

At the urging of fishermen, managers implemented an Individual Transferable Quota (ITQ) program (also known as catch shares) for the wreckfish fishery in 1992 to better manage the resource and preserve the fishery’s economic viability. Under this program, each permitted wreckfish fisherman owns a share of the annual harvest quota and can choose to fish it anytime while the fishing season is open. This prevents an opening day rush to bring the fish to market, assures fishermen of a stable and reasonable price, and helps address safety issues. The program also creates incentives for compliance with fishery regulations and conservation.

Looking Ahead

In 2012, based on new scientific information, managers implemented an annual catch limit of 235,000 pounds for the wreckfish fishery, with 95 percent allocated to commercial fishermen. This was an 88 percent reduction from the previous quota of 2 million pounds and reduced each quota shareholder’s portion of the catch. Managers found that only a few of the shareholders are still active in the wreckfish segment of the snapper-grouper fishery. In October 2012, managers identified and reverted inactive wreckfish shares for redistribution among the remaining shareholders and established a share cap and an appeals process. The redistribution of wreckfish shares allowed commercial fishermen to maximize their harvest potential within the constraints of the reduced annual catch limit.

 
 
 

LOCATION & HABITAT

Wreckfish are found in the western Atlantic Ocean from Grand Banks, Newfoundland, to La Plata River, Argentina, and in the eastern Atlantic Ocean from Norway to South Africa. They migrate throughout the North Atlantic during their life cycle. Although they’re found all along the U.S. East Coast, most of the commercial fishery operates over the Charleston Bump, located 80 to 100 miles southeast of Charleston, South Carolina. The Bump is a deepwater bank that rises up from the Blake Plateau from 2,000 feet deep to about 1,200 feet. From there, the bottom plunges more than 400 feet in a series of steep slopes with rocky cliffs, overhangs, and caves. Wreckfish are also found in the western Indian Ocean and in the Southwest Pacific Ocean near New Zealand.

In general, wreckfish live in water ranging from 140 feet up to 3,300 feet deep. In the first several years of their life, they’re found in surface waters, often near floating debris. As adults, wreckfish prefer steep, rocky bottoms and deep reefs, which provide food and shelter. They’re often found near caves and overhangs. Watch a video of wreckfish and red bream, two of the largest fish species on the Charleston Bump, sharing space under a slab of manganese-phosphorite covered with soft corals and anemones.

 
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BIOLOGY

Wreckfish grow slowly, up to a maximum of 220 pounds and 6.5 feet in length. However, a typical wreckfish weighs 40 to 60 pounds and is 2½ to 4 feet long. Wreckfish have a long life span, with some living more than 70 years. They’re able to reproduce when they reach 8 years of age. Wreckfish spawn multiple times during their spawning season, which lasts from January to mid-April. The only place wreckfish are known to spawn in the North Atlantic is the Charleston Bump. Female wreckfish release their eggs, which are fertilized externally. Scientists believe that the Gulf Stream transports the eggs and larvae north and east across the ocean to the coast of Europe where they grow and develop into juveniles and young adults. Mature adults are known to migrate across the Atlantic to the southeastern coast of the United States.

Wreckfish are large predators in the dynamic food chain of the Charleston Bump. The Charleston Bump deflects the Gulf Stream offshore, causing upwelling of nutrient-rich water that supports the growth and production of phytoplankton (tiny plants), and the zooplankton (tiny animals) that feed on phytoplankton. Fish and squid living in the water column travel toward the surface at night to feed on the zooplankton. During the day, these fish return to the deep to avoid predators and digest their meal in the deep, dark, cooler waters where wreckfish live. Wreckfish lurk in caves and under overhangs on the Bump and come out to feed on these fish and squid migrating during the day. There are no known predators of wreckfish.

 
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PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION

Wreckfish are a bass-like species. They are bluish grey on the back and paler with a silvery sheen on the belly. Their fins are blackish brown. Juveniles have black blotches on their head and body. Wreckfish have a big head with a big mouth and a rough bony ridge across the upper part of the gill cover.

 
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OVERVIEW

Researchers have conducted surveys of the Charleston Bump, where wreckfish live, to determine the abundance of wreckfish and other fish and observe the geological features of their deep-water habitat. The rugged bottom topography and currents of the Charleston Bump make traditional sampling impossible, requiring researchers to use submersibles and special sampling gear to adequately survey the area. Additional observations are needed to describe the fish populations of the Charleston Bump and the ecosystem that supports them.

 
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POPULATION STATUS

Based on a 2014 assessment, the wreckfish population off the southeastern United States is not overfished or subject to overfishing. The assessment was not a Southeast Data, Assessment, and Review assessment, which is the process typically used to conduct assessments in the southeast United States. It was conducted by scientists from the University of Cape Town, South Africa. These scientists worked with the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council’s Scientific and Statistical Committee to apply the Council’s peer review process.

 
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Harvesting Wreckfish

In North America, wreckfish are harvested primarily in the Atlantic Ocean off South Carolina on the Charleston Bump. Wreckfish are also harvested off the Florida Keys. Commercial fishermen use heavy-duty hydraulic reels with 1/8-inch cable to harvest wreckfish. They attach heavy weights and multiple circle hooks baited with squid to the cable and fish just above the bottom.

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Management

Who’s in charge? NOAA Fisheries and the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council

Current management: Snapper Grouper Fishery Management Plan

  • Fishermen are required to possess a federal snapper grouper permit along with a federal wreckfish permit in conjunction with coupons and a current logbook to fish for, land, or sell wreckfish. An applicant must be a wreckfish ITQ shareholder, an employee, agent, or contractor to a wreckfish shareholder to obtain a wreckfish permit.
  • Bottom longlining for wreckfish is prohibited (only vertical hook and line may be used).
  • The wreckfish fishery is closed during their spawning season (mid-January to mid-April).
  • The fishery is also managed under an Individual Transferable Quota (ITQ) program. Under the ITQ (also known as catch shares) program, each wreckfish fisherman owns a share of the quota and can choose to fish it anytime during the open season.
  • Beginning in 2012, 5 percent of the allowable catch is allocated for harvest by recreational fishermen.
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Annual Harvest

Fewer than 10 vessels currently operate in the fishery. Because of the small number of participants, most years of landings data are confidential. In the past decade, commercial fishermen have generally harvested around 10 percent of the allowed harvest. In 2012, the commercial harvest totaled 257,320 pounds.

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Economy

A few fishermen have consistently reported wreckfish landings in recent years. Active wreckfish fishermen are based in Charleston, South Carolina, northeast Florida, and the Florida Keys. Their catch is purchased by fish houses and sold to restaurants or consumers, or shipped to dealers around the United States. U.S. fishermen supply most of the wreckfish in the U.S. domestic market. The 2012 harvest was valued at nearly $700,000.

Wreckfish are also commercially harvested in the eastern Atlantic, the Atlantic off Brazil, the Mediterranean, and the western South Pacific.

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OVERVIEW

Wreckfish has a flavor similar to grouper but its texture and consistency are similar to swordfish. The meat is firm and white and has a large flake.

 
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SEASONAL AVAILABILITY

Fresh from mid-April through mid-January, but availability is sporadic because only a few fishermen harvest wreckfish. Wreckfish are harvested in small quantities and are notoriously difficult to catch.

 
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NUTRITION

Wreckfish is a low-fat, high-protein source of B vitamins and minerals, including selenium.

Servings 1
Serving Weight 100 g (raw)
Calories 97
Protein 18.43 g
Fat, total 2 g
Saturated fatty acids, total 0.511 g
Carbohydrate 0 g
Sugars, total 0 g
Fiber, total dietary 0 g
Cholesterol 41 mg
Selenium 36.5 mcg
Sodium 68 mg

Wreckfish Table of Nutrition

 
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