The NC Marine Fisheries Commission (MFC) is considering increasing the minimum size limit for southern flounder to 15 inches and decreasing the fishing creel limit to six southern flounder a day, a plan they will vote on when they meet Nov 3-5 at the Hilton Riverfront Hotel in New Bern.
The meeting is open to the public and will include a host of votes and discussions on other issues, including another look at the Spotted Seatrout (Speckled Trout) Fishery Management Plan.
Both the NC Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) and a southern flounder advisory committee have recommended the new recreational limits on flounder to the MFC. State law passed in June says that the MFC must end overfishing of a troubled stock within two years of adopting a fishery management plan for the overfished species. A 2009 stock assessment for southern flounder found the stock still overfished, as it has been for many years.
According to the state, southern flounder is the most economically important estuarine finfish in NC. In the past, summer flounder (a more northern ranging species also called fluke) was the main flounder landed in the state. A decline in summer flounder in the 1980s and federal restrictions on harvest in the 1990s, however, have reduced the take of summer flounder while southern flounder have been targeted to make up for the drop.
The commercial take of southern flounder is dominated by the pound net and gill net fisheries which account for 90% of the flounder caught commercially, and according to state figures gill nets became the dominant gear for taking flounder starting in 1995.
It appears that at this time the MFC is not planning to add any new commercial fishing limits in addition to the new recreational fishing limits, hoping instead that new restrictions on gill nets to minimize sea turtle interactions will also cause a drop in the number of southern flounder landed.
The southern flounder size limits will be considered in the form of an amendment to the current Southern Flounder Fishery Management Plan and if passed will be sent for review to the secretary of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Joint Legislative Commission on Seafood and Aquaculture
Public comment periods at the MFC meeting are scheduled for 6 pm on Nov. 3 and 9:15 am on Nov. 4.
A copy of the flounder amendment can be found here. A copy of the agenda for the MFC meeting can be found here.