The slammer dolphin of spring were replaced by a bunch of peanuts. That's the trend this summer along the southeast U.S. coast, according to Don Hammond, director of the Dolphinfish Research Program (DRP). Hammond and his team have been recording dolphin catches from South Carolina fishermen.
"Catches have gone from a solid six to 35 fish per trip, averaging 10.5 pounds per fish, to zero to eight fish per trip," says Hammond. "Only 17 of 426 fish checked during May weighed 20 pounds or more. In June, 18 of the 162 fish examined weighed 20 pounds or more."
One possible reason to see a decrease in catches brought back to shore this summer is the upsurge of undersized dolphin at the fishing grounds. There's a 20-inch fork length minimum for dolphin off the east coast of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. South Florida waters are notorious for schools of small dolphin – plenty of fish measure just-below or at the legal minimum.
So is it worth the effort to keep a just-legal dolphin? Or do you hold off fishing trips for when you can get more bang for your buck? Hammond tested his filleting skills to see how much meat he could salvage from a 23-inch, 3.75-pound cow dolphin.
"You could read a paper through the rack that remained," he said. "The result was two fillets with the skin on that weighed 28 ounces. Removing the skin and bloodline resulted in a weight loss of 14 percent, leaving 24 ounces of edible meat."
That's about 1.5 pounds of meat from a 3.75-pound fish! Not a bad yield. Next time I come back from an offshore trip for dolphin, maybe I'll keep a few less fish and work harder at the cleaning table.