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Flounder regulations change reflects concern for flatfish

Jeff Dennis is a
Lowcountry native.
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The three species of flounder that can be caught in local waters have shown declines in their numbers via marine research. The southern, summer and Gulf flounder are now under new regulations in South Carolina designed to protect their stocks for the future of recreational fishing. The changes are designed to be a long-term fix to the issue of increased fishing pressure that is in direct correlation to the increase in saltwater fishing license sales. The legal length for keeping a flounder increases from 14-inches to 15-inches as of July 1, 2017.
In addition, the daily bag limit and the daily boat limit for keeping flounder have been reduced. Anglers can only claim 10 flounder per day now, down from the 15 flounder limit that was in place since 2007. The maximum daily boat limit is now set at 20 flounder per day, a limit which addresses fishing trips for larger parties or charters. The hope for flounder recovery relies on their own ability to reproduce, with the new regulations giving smaller fish a greater chance to reach spawning age.
Judging the health of any specific stock of saltwater fish can be tricky, especially considering that flounder can swim from inshore to offshore, and they can migrate across state lines, exposing them to different regulations. However, the S.C. Department of Natural Resources has solid data sets for many species thanks to the dedication of the Marine Resources Division. Their trammel net surveys over the past twenty years in waters such as those of the ACE Basin reveal a decline in the catch and release of flounder.
Just off the coast, the Southeast Area Monitoring and Assessment Program (SEAMAP) is also showing a decline in flounder numbers. The goal of this project is to monitor the status and trends of coastal species in the South Atlantic Bight and flounder are listed as one of their priority species. This offshore survey and the trammel net survey seem to back up the decline in flounder harvest reported by recreational anglers, and the S.C. General Assembly took action by passing the legislation.
Take a closer look at the SCDNR website regarding the fishery status for flounder and readers will find that trawling and gigging are playing a role. Commercial flounder landings are not tracked by species, but rather by the genus Paralichthys, and the past three decades of data show a steady decline. Adult flounder migrate to spawning grounds offshore in the late fall and return to inshore waters during the bait run associated with warmer waters in spring.
The nighttime gigging of flounder remains popular with inshore anglers since the same flats boats utilized to chase redfish in the flooded spartina marsh work well to stalk flounder in shallow areas. Utilizing a spear to ‘stick’ a flounder means that catch and release are no longer an option, so the increased size limit will challenge the conservation ethic of anglers when gigging since it can be tough to judge total length in certain conditions.
The changes in flounder regulations are meant to be proactive so that anglers can plan to catch a few more flounder during their future fishing trips, and still be able to reel in a few larger flatfish that are prized in the Lowcountry for their excellent table fare. Flounder can be caught reliably in the surf zone, in creeks and around sand bars making them a common sight on the end of one’s fishing line. It would be hard to imagine a mixed bag of saltwater fish without any flounder among them. If the 2017 changes produce the desired effect, we can expect to see more flounder than ever, keeping this fishery sustainable and preserving part of our outdoor heritage.
Jeff Dennis is a Lowcountry native. Read his blog at LowcountryOutdoors.com

Jeff Dennis, Contributor (284 Posts)

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