A debate is ongoing regarding aquaculture as a tool of the future for raising fish for market and stocking programs. If aquaculture is the future of fishing, the future for flounder is now.

Aquaculture labs are prominent fixtures in the UNC Sea Grant Program at N.C. State University, at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington and at South Brunswick High School in Boiling Springs Lakes.

The aquaculture labs at the college level have worked with programs to raise flounder; there are several businesses that are raising flounder for restaurants.

The Aquaculture Program at South Brunswick has benefitted from the research done elsewhere but has concentrated on raising flounder to be released into the wild to enhance the population.

The program at South Brunswick began in the mid-1980s with students raising bass and catfish in a flooded ditch on school property. The school is only six miles inland from Southport, and when an opportunity arose to become involved in flounder aquaculture, it was a natural step.

On Nov. 9, 2006 the SBHS Aquaculture Class became the first group to release hatchery-raised southern flounder into North Carolina waters and only the second group to release hatchery flounder into United States waters.

Since then, students have made annual releases of flounder into area waters; the release point is in Davis Canal at SW 40th st. on Oak Island.

The flounder released have been grown to 6 to 9 inches long.

Byron "Barry" Bey has been the instructor for the SBHS Aquaculture Program since its inception.

"This has been a long but rewarding process and demands a lot of time of my students," Bey said. "From the beginning, we wanted to do this, but we wanted to do it right and formed an advisory committee with most of the prominent fishery scientists in the state and set up guidelines to follow.

"When my kids opened the door to the transport tank that first afternoon and all those little flounder went pouring into Davis Canal, it was a proud time for all of us and a benchmark in North Carolina fisheries management history."

Bey said that, while the project always had the support of the Brunswick County School Board, but there were serious funding and equipment needs. He cited fishing clubs across the state, tournaments, civic groups, the local chamber of commerce and fishermen as supporters of the project.

In addition to the school’s lab, four quarter-acre ponds adjacent to the school are for growing the fish to size. Already this summer, several tournaments have rewarded fishermen for bringing their flounder in alive and have given the live fish to the SBHS lab for brood stock.

The hatchery-raised flounder are not tagged, but they are very easily recognized. They have some unusual dark markings on their white side; the most-dominant are three black spots around the perimeter of their body.

When a stocked fish is caught, the information on the date, location, type of capture and whether it was kept or released is critical to the ongoing success of the program.

Catches of flounder with black markings on their white side should be reported to Barry Bey at bey@bcswan.net. Pictures are helpful, also.