Atlantic Croaker

Life History

Atlantic croaker are silvery greenish or grayish fish with brassy spots on their side and 3-5 pairs of small barbels on their chin. They also produce the characteristic drumming sound of their family, Sciaenidae, by vibrating their swim bladder with special muscles. Croaker are found in Atlantic coastal waters from Cape Cod, Massachusetts to Florida and throughout the Gulf of Mexico. Croaker are considered uncommon north of New Jersey; however, they are one of the most abundant inshore, bottom-dwelling fish from the Chesapeake Bay south to Florida.

Adult croaker generally spend the spring and summer in estuaries and can be found in Chesapeake Bay from March to October, with peak abundance from May to August. They migrate up the Bay and up-river in the spring, randomly move around during the summer, and then move down river and out of the Bay to spawn in the fall. Spawning usually occurs from September to December over a broad area of the ocean's continental shelf, including the mouth of Chesapeake Bay. Croaker usually reach maturity by age 2-3 and females can produce approximately 100,000 -1,800,000 eggs. Juvenile croaker tend to prefer low salinity to freshwater habitats and open-water rather than submerged aquatic vegetation areas. They will move into the deeper portions of tidal rivers in the fall, where they overwinter and will leave the Bay to travel with the adults south to deeper, offshore waters along the Atlantic coast the following fall.

Atlantic croaker are opportunistic, bottom-dwelling creatures that feed on marine worms, mollusks, crustaceans, and occasionally fish. They, in turn, are eaten by many other fish, including striped bass, flounder, shark, weakfish, spotted seatrout, and bluefish.

Chesapeake Bay Management

The Chesapeake Bay Atlantic Croaker and Spot Fishery Management Plan (FMP) was adopted in 1991 and its management strategies include: 1) participation in scientific and technical meetings for managing Atlantic croaker along the Atlantic coast and in estuarine waters; 2) a 10-inch minimum size limit; 3) promotion of the development and use of trawl efficiency devices in the southern shrimp fishery and the use of bycatch reduction devices in the finfish trawl fishery; 4) a 4-6-inch gill net restriction from June 15 through September 30 and implementing a 3-inch minimum mesh size along the coast; 5) investigation of the magnitude of the bycatch problem and consideration to implement bycatch restrictions for the non-directed fisheries in the Bay; 6) collection of data on croaker biology, especially estimates of population abundance, recruitment, and reproductive biology; 7) setting specific objectives for water quality goals and habitat requirements.

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (Commission) adopted their Interstate Fishery Management Plan for Atlantic Croaker (Plan) in 1987. States participating in this Plan include Maryland south through Florida. There were several major problems addressed in the Plan including a lack of stock assessment data needed to effectively manage the resource and limited catch and effort data from both commercial and recreational fisheries in order to determine the relationship between landings and abundance. Bycatch, or the catch of unwanted or undersized fish, was also addressed in the Plan. Studies have shown that about 10 percent of the discarded fish taken in the southern shrimp trawl fishery was Atlantic croaker. Bycatch reduction devices, designed to keep shrimp and allow other creatures to escape, are being used by shrimpers throughout the entire South Atlantic and in some cases, has reduced bycatch by 50 to 75 percent. The bycatch of croaker in Chesapeake Bay fisheries has not been documented and remains a concern for the stocks.

Biologists from Maryland DNR - Fisheries Service sample five summer migrant fish species, including summer flounder, weakfish, bluefish, Atlantic croaker, and spot, each year from four commercial pound nets in the mid and lower Chesapeake Bay from June through September. Atlantic croaker are removed from the nets and total lengths are measured. This data assesses the stock status of Atlantic croaker in the Bay and is used to prepare fishery management plans for Chesapeake Bay, the Commission, and the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council.

The Maryland DNR - Fisheries Service has also maintained a fish population monitoring project in the Maryland Coastal Bays since 1972. The Coastal Bays Finfish Investigation Project characterizes stocks and estimates the annual abundance of juvenile and adult marine species in the coastal bays and near-shore Atlantic Ocean. Areas of high value as spawning and nursery areas are delineated. Stock assessment data for summer flounder, weakfish, spot, Atlantic croaker, black sea bass, and winter flounder are collected.

Commercial and Recreational Fisheries

Historically, the Chesapeake region accounted for the majority of the commercial Atlantic coast landings of croaker. However, commercial landings have declined dramatically from about 60 million pounds in the 1940s to approximately 2 million pounds in the 1980s. Croaker are caught commercially in the Bay from early April through mid-October, primarily from pound nets. Currently, commercial fisheries have a 9-inch size limit and are closed from December 1, 1998 to March 15, 1999. Also, importation of croaker from other states is restricted to times when the fishery is open in Maryland.

Atlantic croaker is an important recreational species and usually ranks within the top 10 species caught in the Bay. Croaker are taken by recreational anglers from mid-April through September in waters from a few feet deep to depths of 45 feet or more over all bottom types. Recreational croaker landings in Maryland have been above average in the years 1993 to 1996. Increased catches in the numbers of juveniles in Maryland in recent years may be an artifact of the use of bycatch reduction devices in the southern shrimp trawl fishery and increased mesh sizes being used by the flounder and weakfish fisheries. The Maryland recreational fishery has a 9-inch size limit and a creel limit of 25 fish/person/day and is closed from December 1, 1998 to March 15, 1999.

To book your trip aboard Light Tackle Charters call Captain Walt at (410) 845-3231 or email him from this site! Remember, your date is not "booked" until a deposit has been recieved.

Light Tackle Charters
543 Wellington Road
Crisfield, Maryland 21817

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You may bring your own fly, spinning, casting or trolling outfits. I recommend different outfits of different size & weights dependent upon the time of year and the species we'll be stalking. Just talk with me (via phone or e-mail) prior to the trip and I'll be happy to make recommendations...