North Carolina commercial fisherman saw seafood sales decline again in 2020

Blue crabs have historically been North Carolina’s most valuable commercial fishery. [photo courtesy Hyde County/Megan Shaw]

Commercial fishermen sold 42.9 million pounds of fish and shellfish to North Carolina seafood dealers in 2020, a decrease of 19% from 2019 and about a 23% decrease from the previous five-year average.

Recreational fishermen landed 53.5 million finfish weighing 24.9 million pounds from state coastal and estuarine waters in 2020. The total weight harvested was about 4.6% higher than 2019 and a 4% increase over the previous 5-year-average.

The decrease in commercial harvest was tied to a 41.3% decrease in hard blue crab landings from 2019 that may have been partly due to impacts from COVID-19. The Division of Marine Fisheries heard from several fishermen who said they found it difficult to move blue crabs at the beginning of the state’s stay-at-home order when many restaurants were closed.

Even so, hard blue crabs remained the state’s top commercial seafood in terms of pounds landed, while shrimp brought the most money to fishermen at the docks. The top five species by weight landed commercially from North Carolina coastal and estuarine waters in 2020 were:


Species Pounds Landed Estimate Dockside Value (Ex-Vessel)
Hard Blue Crabs 13.1 million $19.1 million
Shrimp 9.7 million $22.3 million
Summer Flounder 1.8 million $3.7 million
Spiny Dogfish 1.5 million $205,016
Striped Mullet 1.3 million $651,104


The top five species landed recreationally from North Carolina coastal and estuarine waters in 2020 were:


Species Pounds Landed Number of Fish Landed
Spotted Seatrout 3.6 million 2.1 million
Yellowfin Tuna 2.4 million 83,766
Dolphin 2.1 million 262,372
Bluefish 2.1 million 2.1 million
Spanish Mackerel 1.8 million 1.3 million


Anglers took 16.4 million fishing trips in North Carolina coastal and estuarine waters in 2020, about 1.1 million fewer than in 2019.


The Division of Marine Fisheries’ Trip Ticket Program collects commercial fishing landings statistics through statutorily-mandated reporting of all commercial fisherman to dealer transactions.
The division estimates recreational fishing harvests through the Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP). The data for MRIP is gathered by port agents talking to fishermen at recreational access sites such as piers, boat ramps, charter docks, and on the beach. Data is also gathered through mail surveys to license holders. The estimates do not include recreational landings of shrimp, crabs, and shellfish.


For a full landings report, see the 2020 Annual Fisheries Bulletin.

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Sam Walker was news director for, Beach 104, 99.1 The Sound, Big 94.5 WCMS and Z 92.3 from August 2011 to March 2022.