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Flounder Numbers Fall Flat – Anglers To Take Survey

Southern flounder are commonly found in South Carolina.

The future of flounder fishing is looking flimsy according to a newly completed study. Earlier this year a comprehensive assessment of flounder numbers across N.C., S.C., Georgia, and northern Florida ended with alarm bells ringing. Flounder are being found in historically low numbers, and it is likely that decades of overfishing for this popular resource is to blame. Changes in flounder fishing season dates, bag limits and size restrictions are likely coming soon, and SCDNR is asking all anglers to take an online survey concerning the state of the flatfish.
A common theme in saltwater fishing seems to be stress on these natural resources due to its popularity. There is more commercial fishing, more charter fishing and more recreational fishing than ever, and the natural resources are not able to remain sustainable without proactive regulation. Readers of the Colletonian recall that in 2017, SCDNR approved changes in decreased flounder limits as a path towards flounder recovery. The outlook for success wasn’t rosy but it seemed plausible. The 2019 flounder stock assessment findings are in stark contrast to that earlier optimism.
Biologists with S.C. Department of Natural Resources out of the Fort Johnson Marine Lab has two long-term data sets on inshore fisheries to harvest flounder data from. Their electrofishing surveys and trammel net surveys both show the S.C. flounder numbers are the lowest they have been since these studies began in 1990. These studies catch fish for size measurements and DNA samples, before releasing the fish back into the estuary. Over time this creates a snapshot of the health of the fishery.
“We wanted to look at our own flounder data to see if we were seeing the same declines locally,” said Dr. Joey Ballenger, lead flounder biologist. “The data is clear, this decline doesn’t seem to be confined to one area of the state. We observed it in all of our major estuaries. Our results suggest the average size of flounder encountered in our surveys has declined by over an inch during the past ten years. This is often a sign of heavy fishing pressure since people are removing the fish as soon as they reach minimum size requirements.”
There is no quick fix to a decline in flounder numbers since it is a reality that flounder is one of the most popular dishes for seafood lovers. Top-tier restaurants have made solid reputations on serving fat flounder with score grill marks and savory toppings. Recreational anglers can clean a flounder on the dock and have it in the frying pan for supper in no time flat. The osprey is well known for catching fish, and that includes flounder, so the natural world relies on them too. Anglers in S.C. rank flounder as one of the top three most targeted saltwater fish, a sentiment that is not likely to change
The flounder survey asks what level of interest anglers have towards rebuilding the flounder population. Options include a quicker plan, where the number of fish kept must be more limited, or a long rebuilding period. The survey reports that modest changes to minimum sizes and bag limits have not resulted in the desired results, so anglers are asked to rank their commitment to implement new regulations including a partial closure for flounder fishing season. Any additional comments from anglers concerning flounder can be added at the end of the survey, which only takes five minutes to complete.
After the flounder study results were released, North Carolina acted by closing its commercial and recreational flounder fisheries and instituting a shortened 45-day flounder fishing season. In South Carolina, any changes to game and fish laws are made by the General Assembly and historically take much longer to approve and enact. Southern flounder in the south Atlantic Ocean can migrate across state lines, which is why this regional assessment carries greater weight. This means that no one state can make the exact changes that will keep flounder numbers from tanking and that we are all in the same boat when it comes to the future of fishing for flounder.

Jeff Dennis is a Lowcountry native. Read his blog at LowcountryOutdoors.com

Jeff Dennis
Jeff Dennis, Contributor (386 Posts)

Jeff Dennis is a Lowcountry native. Read his blog at www.LowcountryOutdoors.com