Dr. Louis Daniel, director of the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries, issued a proclamation on Feb. 14 that increased the minimum size for flounder to 15 inches and dropped the daily creel limit from eight fish to six. These changes were made after NCDMF biologists determined that while the number of flounder in North Carolina waters has increased over the past few years, flounder are still overfished and undergoing overfishing.
"These are just precursors to Amendment 1 to the Southern Flounder Fishery Management Plan," said Chris Batsavage, the NCDMF biologist who oversees the flounder program. "We have been working on the first revision of the Southern Flounder FMP for almost two years, and these are the recommendations of the advisory committees and the DMF biologists that were approved by the (N.C.) Marine Fisheries Commission last fall. This plan was forwarded to the Joint Legislative Committee on Seafood and Aquaculture (JLCSA) last year, but (the legislature) had already adjourned. Our projections are for these changes to bring a reduction of 20.2 percent in the total recreational catch."
Biologists determined the flounder harvest needed to be reduced by 20.5 percent for flounder to recover in the 10 years mandated by law. Several means of reaching the needed reduction were sent to the NCMFC Advisory Committees early last fall. In addition to the size and number changes, some of the proposals included closures to allow the size and number regulations to remain the same. Batsavage said increasing the minimum size and lowering the limit was the option that biologists preferred.
While restrictions proposed for commercial interests were discussed in the early stages of drafting the Southern Flounder FMP Amendment, they were later dropped.
"The changes that were mandated to meet the requirements of the agreement to reduce interactions with sea turtles and gill nets actually served to reduce the commercial flounder catch more than was needed for this amendment," Daniel said. "Flounder gill nets have been removed from internal waters except for 48 hours a week. This is a 71-pe cent reduction in possible fishing time, down from a possible 168 hours each week.
"The amount of net a flounder fisherman can carry has been reduced by a third north of the (US) 58 Bridge at Emerald Isle and two-thirds south of it," Daniel said. "Gill-net use was also limited in several other ways, and these changes combined to reduce the commercial flounder catch more than would have been required by the amendment to the FMP. At that point, there was no need to further restrict the commercial fishermen."
Batsavage agreed the preliminary indications were that 2010 commercial flounder landings were reduced, and the natural assumption was because of the restrictions required to avoid interactions with sea turtles. He added that the early reports showed an increase in recreational flounder landings for 2010, and this reinforced the premise that the commercial landings were reduced due to the gill-net restrictions of the sea turtle agreement. He said it was still early in the review process and these trends could change, but so far they were in line with projections.