DMF director sets recreational flounder season

Division of Marine Fisheries Director Steve Murphey has announced that the 2020 recreational flounder season will be Aug. 16 through Sept. 30 for internal and ocean waters of the state.

The minimum size limit will remain at 15 inches total length, and the creel limit will remain at four 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.

In August 2019 the N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission adopted Amendment 2 to the Southern Flounder Fishery Management Plan. The plan established the framework for a 62% reduction in southern flounder harvest (compared to 2017) in North Carolina for 2019 and a 72% reduction in harvest beginning in 2020 to be achieved through various management measures, including recreational and commercial season closures.

The Division of Marine Fisheries analyzed a variety of scenarios for the 2020 recreational flounder season, including weekend openings with weekday closures, two-week stand-alone seasons, and holiday openings. However, the division determined these types of seasons would likely not result in the needed recreational harvest reductions.

Reductions in harvest are required because a 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 and rebuild the stock to achieve sustainable harvest within 10 years of adoption of a fishery management plan.

During the MFC meeting recently, CCA NC Fisheries Committee Chairman Dr. Chris Elkins advocated on behalf of recreational fishermen to seek species-specific management for recreationally caught flounder in NC state waters.

Ocellated flounder are a significant fishery for recreational fishermen both inside and outside of the col regs lines.  If fishermen can identify flounder, there is no need to close the fishery for ocellated flounder, he said.  Some have suggested leaving the ocean open for ocellated flounder because they are relatively more common than on the inside, but if fishermen can identify flounder in the ocean, they certainly can identify flounder in the estuary.

There are numerous examples of closely related species that have different regulations and that require fishermen to be able to morphologically identify similar fish.  Examples include, jacks , the numerous species of groupers, the mackerels, Porgies, Snappers, and the most difficult, sharks.

CCA NC asks that the season for ocellated flounder be kept open and that anglers be further educated about flounder speciation.

It has been proposed that opening the season for summer flounder and gulf, which are not overfished, could be done if anglers were able to speciate the three species.  Southern flounder contain spots that are non-ocellated spots and summer and gulf have spots that are ocellated and these fish are sometimes referred to as ocellated and non-ocellated flounder, respectively.

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