It seems the last few years have been hard on Cobia along the Eastern US. In 2015 alone, recreational catches were more than double the allotted tonnage (for a total of 1,540,000 pounds!). The fish have become more popular, and in some areas, they are the premier inshore species (Virginia and North Carolina for example). Because of this, NOAA has determined that a mid-season closure is needed to protect the species, and this will be implemented in Federal Waters (3 miles out and beyond) starting on June 20th. Most states are expected to follow suit, although Georgia has decided they will not.
In the case of Virginia, this will cut short the Cobia season by nearly 3 months. For those who know this great fishery, Mid-May through June are prime season, but July, August, and September offer great (maybe better) fishing as well. This will have economic impacts to many small businesses including charters, guides, marinas, local hotels, and restaurants. That’s the downside.
The upside? For those in the catch-and-release crowd, this will likely have the effect of keeping meat fishermen at home, or at minimum off chasing Sheepshead, Flounder, Croaker, and other inshore food species. That means less competition at the buoys, on local wrecks and reefs, and along the beaches. While I enjoy Cobia meat as much as the next guy, I will stand behind NOAA’s assessment and encourage Virginia to follow suit.
The ideal scenario would be spread the fishing opportunities across all of the East Coast states, but I would not be surprised if the fisheries data is not available (with respect to fish size, year classes, etc) to make such an approach viable. Hopefully things will move in this direction, but it may be years before such an approach is feasible, either through science or political will.
For more information, see NOAA’s briefing: