The N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission adopted the Southern Flounder Fishery Management Plan Amendment 3 at its May 2022 meeting. Amendment 3 includes robust management strategies, such as commercial and recreational quotas, options for commercial trip limits, and a spring Gulf and summer flounder season for recreational hook and line in the ocean.
The 2022 recreational flounder season will open at 12:01 a.m. Sept. 1 and close at 11:59 p.m. Sept. 30 in internal and ocean waters of North Carolina. The minimum size limit will remain at 15 inches total length, and the creel limit will be 1 fish per person per day during the open recreational season. Since all species of flounder are managed under the same recreational regulations, the recreational season applies to all recreational flounder fishing.
The commercial southern flounder season will open on the below schedule and close when the Total Allowable Landings is approached for each gear type and area.
|AREA||GENERAL AREA DESCRIPTION||OPENING DATE|
|Northern||Albemarle Sound and its tributaries, Pamlico Sound and its tributaries, and upper Core Sound||Sept. 15|
|Southern||Lower Core Sound and waters south to the South Carolina line||Sept. 15|
|AREA||GENERAL AREA DESCRIPTION||OPENING DATE|
|Northern||Albemarle Sound and its tributaries||Sept. 15|
|Central||Pamlico Sound and its tributaries||Oct. 1|
|Southern||Core Sound to South Carolina line||Oct. 1|
For more specific information, including harvest area maps and latitude and longitude, see Proclamation FF-40-2022.
The minimum size limit will remain at 15 inches total length. The minimum gill net mesh size remains 6.0 inches stretch mesh, and pound net escape panel minimum mesh size remains 5.75 inches stretch mesh. All additional measures approved under Amendment 2 will remain in place (i.e., yardage limits and soak times for gill nets).
All commercial gears that target southern flounder, such as large mesh gill nets, and flounder pound nets, must be removed from the water when the season is closed (or made inoperable in the case of flounder pound nets). The catfish and shad fisheries, which use large mesh gill nets, will be allowed during times and in areas where interactions with southern flounder are unlikely.
The Marine Fisheries Commission maintained a southern flounder harvest reduction goal of 72% in Amendment 3. The reduction is more conservative than the minimum required to achieve sustainable harvest.
The 2019 South Atlantic Southern Flounder Stock Assessment found that southern flounder is overfished and overfishing is occurring throughout the region (North Carolina through the eastern coast of Florida). Overfished means the population is too small. Overfishing means the removal rate is too high. North Carolina law mandates that fishery management plans include measures to end overfishing within two years of adoption and rebuild the stock to achieve sustainable harvest within 10 years of adoption of a fishery management plan. Division of Marine Fisheries Staff developed and the Marine Fisheries Commission approved harvest reductions necessary to meet the legally mandated rebuilding timeline to achieve a sustainable fishery.
Overfished and Overfishing tables
Figure 1 below shows that the spawning stock biomass (SSB) does not meet the 4,000 metric ton threshold, which is the lowest level that it needs to meet to be considered rebuilt. The dotted lines (2SD) indicate the uncertainty about the estimates (standard deviation). The Fishery Management Plan strives to achieve the target level to increase the likelihood of rebuilding the stock to end the overfished status within 10 years.
Figure 2 below shows that the rate of fishing removals from the stock (F) is higher than the threshold, which is the highest rate of removals the stock can withstand. The dotted lines (2SD) indicate the uncertainty about the estimates (standard deviation). The Fishery Management Plan strives to achieve the target level of fishing removals to increase the likelihood of ending overfishing within two years.
The Marine Fisheries Commission approved sector harvest allocations of 70% commercial and 30% recreational for 2022, through 2024, 60% commercial and 40% recreational starting in 2025, and 50% commercial and 50% recreational 2026 and beyond.
In 2022, the recreational season closure applies to all flounder fishing in the ocean, sounds, and coastal rivers. However, Amendment 3 to the Southern Flounder Fishery Management Plan includes a provision for a March 1 to April 15 recreational Gulf and summer flounder season for hook-and-line in the ocean and will begin in 2023. Any southern flounder landings and discards from this season will impact the August-September recreational flounder season.
The Division of Marine Fisheries discourages anglers from targeting flounder for catch and release. The division estimates a 9% discard mortality rate in the recreational southern flounder hook-and-line fishery, so any catch-and-release fishing can have a negative impact on the recovery of the stock. Estimates of dead discards count towards the recreational Total Allowable Catch. Targeting flounder outside of the season reduces the volume of available harvest during the season so this activity may impact the length of future seasons.
The N.C. Saltwater Fishing Tournament (Citation Program) will not issue citations for flounder during the recreational season closure.
Recreational fishermen take approximately 2.1 million fishing trips that target or catch flounder every year. While individual fishermen may not harvest many fish per trip, once this number is multiplied by the number of trips taken each year the harvest adds up quickly.
During the two-week 2021 flounder season, recreational fishermen removed 627,444 pounds of southern flounder. This number is primarily harvest, but also includes the fish that die after being released. This was well over the approved allowable removals of 152,808 pounds.
|* seasonal flounder fishery closure in effect|
The N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries’ Coastal Angling Program, in collaboration with the federal Marine Recreational Information Program, surveys Coastal Recreational Fishing License holders throughout the year by mail, telephone, and online. Recreational fishermen are also interviewed at boat ramps, beaches, and piers. These surveys ask for information such as where an angler fished, how many fish they caught, what type of gear they used, and how many fish they threw back. This data is used to produce estimates of recreational harvest.
The state of Florida implemented additional regulations on their commercial and recreational flounder fisheries in March 2021. South Carolina increased the size limit and lowered the bag limit on flounder effective July 1, 2021. South Carolina also established a funding source for a state flounder stocking program. All states are working together to address research needs.
Regardless of what other states do, North Carolina’s combined commercial and recreational harvest of southern flounder makes up 57% of the total removals, so it is likely a successful management strategy implemented by North Carolina will help the overall stock.