The N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission is moving toward implementing commercial and recreational flounder restrictions that would prevent anglers and commercial watermen from keeping the popular flatfish before the end of this summer.
The commission last week approved on a 5-4 vote to accept recommendations made by the Division of Marine Fisheries in their entirety as its preferred management options for Draft Amendment 2 to the Southern Flounder Fishery Management Plan that they say will help save a rapidly declining fishery.
As soon as the nine member commission that is appointed by the governor votes at a meeting in late August in Raleigh, recreational fishing for flounder in North Carolina would be shutdown for the rest of the year and remain closed until late summer of 2020.
The minimum length to keep a flounder is 15 inches for both recreational and commercial fishing.
Commercial fisherman will get a roughly four to eight week window to catch flounder between mid-September and the beginning of November, depending on where they set their nets.
In 2020, the season for both recreational and commercial fishing for flounder would reopen in mid-August. The recreational season would last until the end of September, while commercial fishermen would again have their season set geographically.
The proposal is designed to create a 62 percent reduction in southern flounder harvest, compared to 2017 data, and a 72 percent reduction in harvest beginning in 2020.
The plan, developed by the staff of the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries, also proposes yardage and time restrictions for gill nets and prohibiting the use of puncturing devices, such as gigs and gaffs, in the pound net fishery.
The commission is scheduled to vote on final approval of the draft amendment and its management measures at its Aug. 21-23 meeting in Raleigh.
If approved, the management measures would become effective immediately, and remain until adoption and implementation of Amendment 3 to the Southern Flounder Fishery Management Plan, scheduled for completion in 2021.
Southern flounder is one of three main species of flounder landed on the North Carolina coast, along with summer flounder and Gulf flounder.
Reductions in harvest are required because a 2019 South Atlantic Southern Flounder Stock Assessment says southern flounder population is too small and the removal rate is too high from North Carolina to the eastern coast of Florida.
North Carolina law mandates that fishery management plans include measures to end overfishing within two years of adoption and rebuild the stock to achieve sustainable harvest within 10 years of adoption of a fishery management plan.