Southern Flounder Fishery Management Plan Amendment Underway The development of Amendment 2 to the N.C. Southern Flounder Fishery Management Plan is underway and began with development of a regional stock assessment in late 2017. The Division of Marine Fisheries and state fisheries biologist from South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, along with university scientists, worked together to review each state’s southern flounder data and complete the first-ever regional stock assessment for the species. Southern Flounder (Paralichthys lethostigma) are a bottom-dwelling species found in the Gulf of Mexico, Atlantic Ocean and estuaries from northern Mexico to Virginia. Flounder are caught year-round throughout the estuaries, inlets and nearshore ocean waters of the state with most of the harvest occurring in the late summer and early fall. It is one of the most economically important estuarine finfish species for commercial and recreational fisheries in North Carolina. The stock assessment included data through 2015, and initially indicates the stock was overfished and overfishing was occurring. A stock is overfished when the population size is too small. Overfishing means the removal rate is too high. Currently, the division is updating the stock assessment with data through 2017. These two years of data will be entered into the stock assessment model to make a final determination on overfishing in particular as fishing mortality, or F, declined slightly in the past two years. Under the Fishery Reform Act, if a stock is experiencing overfishing, the Marine Fisheries Commission must put management measures in place to end overfishing in two years after adopting the plan. The stock assessment serves as the foundation for the division to develop the necessary resource management strategies and recommendations to the commission needed to end overfishing and ensure a sustainable stock. As part of the division’s review process, an in-person stock assessment peer review workshop was conducted in December 2017. The peer review panel accepted the stock assessment model for management with the stipulation that the model must be updated with data through 2017 to provide the latest estimate of stock status for management. The panel also noted that management advice based on the 2015 terminal year (the last year of data in the stock assessment model) would be out of date by the time it could be implemented. The division is working with partner states to compile all 2016 and 2017 data by the end of June 2018. Once the stock assessment model is updated, the results will be presented to the Southern Flounder Advisory Committee and the Marine Fisheries Commission in late 2018. The Southern Flounder Advisory Committee was appointed in late 2017 to assist the Division of Marine Fisheries with development of the Fishery Management Plan. It is chaired by Dr. Fred Scharf, professor in the Department of Biology and Marine Biology at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, who also served on the Southern Flounder Stock Assessment Working Group. The advisory committee met in early January for orientation and a general overview of the division stock assessment process. They met again in March and staff reviewed the data sources considered for the Southern Flounder stock assessment. At their May 9meeting, staff will present the January 2018 stock assessment results to the committee. The advisory committee is scheduled to meet bimonthly through the remainder of 2018. Division biologists and Southern Flounder Fishery Management Plan Co-Leads, Mike Loeffler and Anne Markwith are working closely with the advisory committee and the division’s plan development team to continue development of the the plan. Staff are currently drafting plan sections for the advisory committee’s review. Once the updated stock assessment results become available, work will begin on developing management strategies for the Southern Flounder fishery. If the updated stock assessment results indicate the stock is overfished and overfishing is occurring, the division is required by law to develop science-based recommendations to end overfishing within two years and achieve sustainable harvest within 10 years from the date of adoption of the plan. As the plan development continues, the division’s website will provide meeting notices for Southern Flounder Advisory Committee meetings, including times, locations and agenda items. Each meeting contains a public comment portion and stakeholders are encouraged to participate in the management of this valuable North Carolina resource by attending meetings, providing public comment or contacting advisory committee members or division biologists directly to discuss issues and provide input. For more information on the Southern Flounder Fishery Management Plan, please contact Mike Loeffler at Michael.Loeffler@ncdenr.gov or 252-264-3911 or Anne Markwith at Anne.Markwith@ncdenr.gov or 910-796-7292.