Scup by Bottom Trawl (USA)

United States — Mid-Atlantic Coast




Jan 01 - Dec 31

Bottom Trawl

Fish harvesters drag a large cone-shaped net along the seafloor to catch groundfish such as scup, flounder, monkfish, haddock, cod and pollock. The net is sunk and held open by two “otter boards” that look like large, heavy steel or wooden doors. As the net is towed at low speed, hydrodynamic forces push the boards outwards opening the mouth of the net and capturing fish in its path. The net is then hauled to the surface using hydraulic winches and a drum. A single tow can net thousands of fish along with incidental catch.

Harvesting Method

Bottom Trawl

Also known as “dragging,” bottom trawling uses a large net made of polyethylene to catch fish. Steel or wooden doors spread the net open. Floats are attached to the upper mouth of the net to keep it open vertically and weighted “bobbins” are attached to the lower mouth to sink the net. The bobbins’ design depends on the terrain, varying from small rubber discs for smooth sandy seafloors to large metal balls for rough ground. Known as “rock hoppers,” bobbins lift the net over obstacles on the seafloor.

Bottom Trawl

In New England, many different species are caught in bottom trawls. These include scup, Atlantic cod, haddock, pollock, yellowtail flounder, witch flounder, winter flounder, windowpane flounder, American plaice, Atlantic halibut, redfish, ocean pout and white hake. Most trawlers are federally permitted to catch multiple groundfish species. Some trawlers also have state permits to catch allocations in state waters.

Conservation Measures

Bottom trawls disturb habitat when dragged along the seabed, and impacts vary by sediment type and the trawl gear used. Undersized and unwanted species (bycatch) are also unintentionally caught.

The scup trawl fishery is managed jointly by the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council, NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission. Individual states may set different regulations for the commercial fishery than those in place for federal waters. The total quota is allocated to each of the 11 coastal states from Maine to North Carolina, based upon fixed percentages. A number of federal and state measures address conservation in this fishery, including:

  • annual catch limits
  • limitation on the number and size of licensed fishing vessels in the fishery
  • limitation on amount of scup that can be caught on each trip and seasonal possession limits for the summer and winter fisheries
  • requirement for a vessel monitoring system or interactive voice response system to monitor fishing vessels
  • restrictions on roller and mesh sizes for nets to prevent the capture of small fish
  • requirement to maintain on board and submit vessel trip reports for all fishing trips, regardless of species caught
  • closure of some fishing areas for conservation purposes

In this lobster fishing area, fish harvesters actively participate in scientific data collection and research such as:

  • a comprehensive data collection system on catches
  • scientific sampling of lobsters at sea
  • maintaining catch logbooks and scientific field notebooks

United States


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Jan 01 - Dec 31


The Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council, NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission jointly manage this fishery. Individual states may set different regulations for the commercial fishery than those in place for Federal waters. Visit NOAA’s Fisheries Service for the most recent management plan. 


For stock status, visit the Northeast Regional Office of NOAA’s Fisheries Service.

Quality and Handling

Scup caught by bottom trawls are hauled aboard and stored in ice or a mixture of ice and seawater. A group of trawlers operate as day-boats out of Point Judith, Rhode Island, although vessels can stay at sea for about a week.

Harvesting Area

Scup are managed as part of the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Area extending from Maine to North Carolina. 


Food Info Scup


  • Appearance: White meat
  • Texture: Lean and tender, with large flakes but bony
  • Flavour: Mild, sweet flavour
  • Perfect serve: Scup contain lots of small bones, which make them difficult to fillet. As a result, they are generally sold and cooked whole, after they’ve been scaled and dressed. In fact, scup is often referred to as a “pan fish,” because its small size is excellent for pan frying or sautéing. Oven roasting whole fish is also a good option: this method softens the bones and allows the meat to slide off them more easily. Note: Scup can have tough, hard-to-scale-skin, so it’s easiest to have the fish scaled before buying.