Recreational anglers won’t be allowed to catch and keep flounder beginning today (Wednesday, September 4), and the season won’t re-open until sometime next year at the soonest.
Also starting today commercial fishermen who harvest ocean flounder will be subject to new gear restrictions, and inshore commercial fishermen have a restricted season that won’t start until fall.
The rules are part of a proclamation from the director of the Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF), operating under a decision made two weeks ago by the state Marine Fisheries Commission.
The Commission gave the director flexibility on when to re-open the recreational harvest and on how long to allow the commercial harvest, so long as required harvest reductions are met. Commissioners also gave the director the authority to allow for-hire charter boats to harvest as many as four flounder per vessel, but last week’s order did not include that provision.
Closure of the flounder fishery will be tough on charter captains, but they have not given up on the possibility there could still be a limited harvest with a future DMF order.
“The door hasn’t been totally shut but I can’t say what’s going to happen,” said Ryan Williams, president of the N.C. For-Hire Captains Association. “I understand both sides and that they want it to be fair.”
Williams said if there is a cold snap this winter with significant mortality among trout, it’s possible the state could close or dramatically shorten the season for that species. It could put inshore and nearshore charter operators in a bind.
“If you can’t catch a flounder and you can’t catch a trout, it’s hard to survive as a charter captain,” he said.
Researchers have found that flounder populations are too small and that too many fish are being harvested. Flounder contributed $5.7-million of “dock value” to North Carolina’s economy in 2017, the most recent year for which statistics are available.
“It’s another nail in the coffin,” said Jon Haag of Haag and Sons Seafood. He said increasing federal and state regulations are squeezing smaller commercial fishermen out of the business.
Southern flounder are also found in South Carolina, Georgia and Florida, but it’s unclear whether those states will enact fishing restrictions beyond current creel and size limits.
The closure is intended to boost southern flounder, but it also applies to summer and gulf flounder, the other two species found in North Carolina waters.