The lowly scup, also known as porgy, is now at the center of a fish story that highlights the overall value of fisheries management, the danger posed by some rules, and seafood consumers' critical role in the safe stewardship of the sea's bounty.
Right now, commercial fishermen out of the Port of Cape May are calling the scup a lifeline that is keeping fishermen and dock employees working.
For years, tasty, prized scallops have been Cape May's No. 1. catch. But scallop harvests have been cut 30 percent this year and will be cut another 30 percent in 2014. The popular shellfish need a breather so stocks can rebuild.
Enter the scup. Press staff writer Richard Degener reported recently that East Coast fishermen landed 49 million pounds of scup in 1960. By 1989, the catch had dropped to 8.2 million pounds, and the fish were getting smaller. In 1995, the first attempts to manage scup stocks kicked in. Now, thanks to seasonal closings, minimum catch sizes, net restrictions and quotas, scup are back, and an increase in the trip limit to 50,000 pounds has made it profitable to target them. This all comes at exactly the right time to help local fishermen who are being hurt by the scallop restrictions. Especially helpful is the fact that scup can be caught relatively close to shore at a time when fuel is particularly expensive. So that's the good news.
The one problem: Consumers have forgotten about scup or porgy. The key to making this comeback a lasting success story is to grow the domestic market for the fish. That's where you come in.
Successful management of fish stocks is usually seen as a task for the fishermen and their regulators. But the market can play a crucial role, too. So, folks, if you want to see fisheries carefully managed and see stressed species rebound - if you are interested in the long-term health of the ocean that provides the seafood you love - you have to be willing to expand your palate.
So give scup a try. Keith Laudeman, the owner of the Lobster House in Cape May, says it's a tasty fish with white meat.
And the problematic regulation highlighted by the scup story? Scup and flounder are often caught together. But New Jersey rules prohibit a boat that is carrying an out-of-season fish from even entering a port in the state, even if the banned fish are not going to be unloaded. Flounder are now out of season in New Jersey, so boats with a mixed catch are forced to unload in other states where fluke are still in season. The rule sometimes forces boats to stay at sea in dangerous weather. Local captains are willing to unload their scup in Cape May and sail to Virginia or the Carolinas to unload their flounder. The rules should be changed to allow them to do that.