About The Species

U.S. wild-caught scup is a smart seafood choice because it is sustainably managed and responsibly harvested under U.S. regulations.

Population Level

Above target population level.

Fishing Status

At recommended level.

Habitat Impact

Otter trawls can impact bottom habitat. Scup are mainly harvested over sand and mud habitats, which appear to be more resilient to the effects of trawling than more structured habitats, such as coral.


Regulations are in place to minimize bycatch.


  • According to the 2015 stock assessment, scup are not overfished and are not subject to overfishing.
  • With greatly improved reproduction and survival rates and low fishing rates since 1998, Mid-Atlantic spawning stock biomass (a measure of the amount of scup able to reproduce) has steadily increased since the mid-1990s, up to about 190,000 metric tons in 2012, then down slightly to 183,000 metric tons in 2014.
  • Scup are deep-bodied (deeper from back to belly than they are wide).
  • They are dusky brown with bright silvery reflections below and spiny fins.
  • Adult fins are mottled with dark brown, and young scup fins may be faintly barred.
  • Scup’s front teeth are very narrow, almost conical, and they have two rows of molars in the upper jaw.
  • Longspine porgy look similar to scup, but can be easily identified by the elongated spines on their backs.
Behavior and Diet
  • Scup grow slowly, up to about 20 inches long and 4 pounds.
  • They can live a relatively long time, up to about 20 years.
  • Scup are able to reproduce when they reach age 2, when they’re about 8 inches long.
  • They spawn over weedy or sandy areas in southern New England from Massachusetts Bay south to the New York Bight from May through August, with peak activity in June.
  • Individual scup spawn once a year.
  • Most fish spawn at night, but scientists believe scup spawn in the morning.
  • Females release an average of 7,000 eggs, which are fertilized externally.
  • Scup are browsers – they nibble on invertebrates that live on the ocean bottom.
  • They are able to grasp food with their incisors and crush hard-shelled animals with their strong molars.
  • A variety of plankton-eaters—such as medusae, crustaceans, and fish—prey on scup larvae.
  • A number of fish and shorebirds prey on juvenile and adult scup.
Location Description

Scup are found in the Northwest Atlantic Ocean, primarily between Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.

  • The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission and the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council jointly develop management measures for the scup fisheries in state and federal waters north of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.
  • Individual states may set different regulations for the commercial scup fishery. Where state measures differ from federal regulations, federally permitted fishery participants must adhere to the more restrictive measures.
  • NOAA Fisheries implements and enforces management measures.
  • Managed under the Summer Flounder, Scup, and Black Sea Bass Fishery Management Plan:
    • Annual commercial quota is divided into three harvest periods: Winter I (January–April), Summer (May–October), and Winter II (November–December).
    • The Commission manages the summer quota with individual state quotas.
    • NOAA Fisheries monitors commercial harvests and closes the federal scup fishery when the quotas are reached.
    • Minimum size limits to prevent the harvest of young fish that likely haven’t yet reproduced.
    • Minimum mesh size requirements for trawl nets to reduce bycatch of undersized scup.
    • Scup pots and traps must have degradable hinges and escape vents to reduce bycatch and to prevent “ghost fishing” (when a lost trap continues to catch fish or lobster).
    • A moratorium on entry into the fishery.
    • Recreational anglers are subject to an annual harvest limit, minimum fish sizes, possession limits, and open harvest periods.
  • A small amount of scup is harvested incidentally in snapper/grouper fisheries in the South Atlantic (south of Cape Hatteras). The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council includes scup in their Snapper Grouper Fishery Management Plan, which requires fishermen to have a permit and to comply with gear restrictions.