Marine Fisheries Commission likely to shut down flounder fishing this August

Southern flounder are one of three species of the flat fish caught in N.C. waters. [WalkingAngler.com image]

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.

About Sam Walker 216 Articles
Sam Walker is news director for OBXToday.com, Beach 104, 99.1 The Sound, 94.5 WCMS and Classic Rock 92.3. Reach him at sam@obxtoday.com

110 Comments

  1. Delay harvest, compress entire years effort into a five week period, and continuation of a 15″ harvest window designed to take every female fish with any potential to spawn? This is about creating a spectical and show. Those left fishing will be tripping over each other, user conflict will be thru the roof. No possible way to improve SSB with the prescribed harvest proposal targeting the very portion of the stock needing improvement, spawning females.

  2. I totally agree with these seoson should be closed longer than that. People are taking way too many of these fish it’s really messing things up for the advarrage fisherman.

  3. Sad thing is South Carolina has a 10 per person limit and 20 per boat and we have more fishable water’s than they do. What are they doing that we aren’t? They have both commercial and recreational fisherman. Maybe we need to look at them for answers. Our leaders can’t seem to fix any problems

    • Head down to the beach. Relax and enjoy the ocean and pretty women walking by. Then notice the trawlers pulling nets for shrimp go by. Five to six in a line. Those drag nets capturing shrimp also catch flounder, baby flounder. They call it “by-catch”. The haul is went through as the nets pulled in before they dock and tossed overboard for the crabs. They drag twice daily. The drag nets do more “harvesting” that the weekend fisherman does. I used to gig flounder. Same area all the time due to ocean access. I rarely saw baby flounder in the shallow waters. Large flounder about every 200ft apart. They get in through the mouths of the inlets. They only swim like 20ft at a time and lay at each spot ready to ambush for a few hours before moving again. But seriously think about the drag netting and how a small diameter net to catch tiny shrimp how many flounder and other fish is killed in it. They should stop or alternate every other week drag netting for a few months. I know it pays bills but it also kills

      • The amount of small flounder caught by commercial shrimpers is minuscule compared to what is poached by recreational fishermen. If you want the answer to the flounder problem in NC you will need to solve the global warming issue. These fish follow water temperatures and the biomass has shifted to New Yor

        • You are an idiot, there is no global warming issue. Also please explain how commercial fishing is minuscule to recreational fishing. Take your hippie ideology somewhere else, recreational sportsman provide billions of dollars yearly to wildlife management, programs, research, etc….The main reason for most gamefish numbers to dwindle is caused by commercial fishing due to accidental targeting. Commercial fishing should be better regulated not the recreational sportsman adding value to conservation!

          • Thanks Trey, I blame global warming for my heavy drinking, poor posture and low account balance. Oh yeah its the reason I’m a horrible cook too.

          • My name is Lee Sarp- science and politics are like oil and water, they just don’t mix. Commercial shrimping ( trawling) , pound nets and set nets left unattended for 24 hours or more are the reason that flounder have become scarce in NC. There is no debating that. Those same fishing methods have created a situation where less than one tenth of one percent of the fishery’s user group kill off the majority of the target species. Regarding shrimping especially, the destructive impact on NC’s game fish far exceeds any economic uptick that trawling for shrimp contributes to local economies. Many, many recreational fishermen are negatively affected by this harvest method and that fact is also indisputable. Every other east coast state ( and west coast states for that matter) has recognized the economic value of strong game fish populations and most have taken the required action to preserve large predatory fish. A live, 27 inch redfish is worth far more than a dead one and science has extrapolated similar conclusions onto all of NC’s game fish. It’s a shame when essentially third countries like Costa Rico’s fisheries laws far out pace NC’s efforts to protect their game fish populations in order to CAPITALIZE FINANCIALLY on them. You can release a big redfish many times over however you can only sell him or her dead ONCE!

      • ÷I am not from North Carolina but it sounds to me like they need to protect the estuaries from by catch. Eliminate the kill of juvenile fish and the fishery will rebound rapidly. Instead of closing the season put lower limits on the fish. Allow only 1 or 2 fish per angler. Put a restricted limit on gigging. Maybe even a slot limit to protect some of the spawning size fish. Closing the season completely will impact the economy as flounder is the number 1 target species and will result in less angler time spent on the water.

        • It has more to do with the commercial guys more than anything. I fish Western palmico sound last year was best flounder fishing I ever seen but once they open the season to the commercial guys it was like a light switch no more keeper flounder. Then listening to the commercial guys bragging about making 10k a day it only lasted 2 weeks then they where whining because they caught em all up.

    • Been gigging flounder with a commercial license for over 50 years! I think there can be some compromise as such that retired fishermen can always fish the way we have for all our lives. Give us a break, and at least let us fish a little. Take my gig completely away and stop my fishing completely. Come on now and don’t cut us out completely!

    • Stop the gill nets! Only state on east coast where it is legal. Keep the shrimpers at least 2-3 miles off shore. I’m 52 but as a teenager fishing with my dad a beach trip fishing with him was normally great. Now it’s hard to catch a few spot in October without staying for a week. Regulations are helpful we understand but don’t penalize the little guy and let the real problems stay. BAN GILL NETS FIRST!! Then look for a solution for the shrimpers. Maybe have them move offshore a little or limit them to 3 days a week.

  4. Sad Thing Is You’re Punishing Anglers For The Problems That The Commercial Fishermen Are Doing… You Put Tough Creel Size Limits On A Man Or Woman With A Fishing Rod And You Let Commercial Boats And Giggers Have There Ways🤦‍♂️🤦‍♂️🤦‍♂️

    • Stop the netting, inside and out!! Theres your problem. All shrimp boats. 1 lb shrimp = 6 lbs bycatch, flounder, trout, drum. Drop the nets!!!!

      • You need to do some more research there professor ,I did research for the state and never saw the masses of bycatch you are talking,as far as raping the creeks and rivers most have been closed for a long time and are now useless as far as productivity is concerned and suffocating from not being tilled just like farmland. work in a fisherman’s boots sometimes and you will understand

        • The by-catch is tossed overboard as the net is brought in and cleaned for use next time. Hop a trawler and work it for a few days. Different ones. Please don’t rely on word of mouth or questionnaires to help the study. Actually do several trawlers and keep and wiegh the by-catch just for shitz n giggles. On site and firsthand.

          • It’s all politics.! Gill nets would have been banes a few years back by our female governor but 5 senators from down east promised to vote for her budget if she promised to veto any law that affected gill netting. So it’s always up to the people looking after themselves.

          • Agree with Ronnie. I live on outerbanks and have been a flounder fisherman all my life and am72 yrs, old . If you want to solve flounder problem. Got to keep gill netters off fish I have seen first hand what they catch

      • Limit bycatch further & set limits to 1: 16 in fish per recreational fisherman per day. Allow bycatch be sold at wholesale & enforce commercial poundage time & % per season regulated catches.

    • So true .and it’s not right for the everyday fisherman .I pay my taxes jest like the next man.and God have me that water to use as much as he did the next man.

    • I know for fact that there is so many people that gig flounder every night to the week weather permitting. They gig thousands of pounds a week. Some have commercial license so they gig way more than the average fisherman. I agree the net boats also kill lots of small ones. We do not have enough wildlife officials to keep this under control.

      • Jesse could you show me one giger that has a trip tickets where he has gig thousands of pound of flounder. if you realy want to restock you need to let female fish that are the laying fish 15 in or greater. males are mature at 12 to 14 in long.you don’t have to listen to any read it for self texas rule and many others on southern flounder or summer. please read.

  5. I think you need to tighten up on the commercial fishing more than the recreational Fishermen and probably up the size to 18″ .

  6. I’ve been fishing on many of NC waters for years and I see we’re one of the only states that still allow GILL NETS in our waters I see a lot of fish that are caught in these nets are juveniles and most don’t meet the regulated requirements. I’ve seen a lot of dead fish floating in the water after these nets are collected. THIS HAS GOT TO STOP!!

    • I set a gill net recreaoionaly for spots and croakers in the fall , I pat 77 dollars for a license to do so , the net I use is 50 yards long three feet deep sinks to the bottom and has a mesh size of 1and 7/16 , I have only caught one flounder in the last three years and his tooth was hung in the net , I have to attend my net at all times and generally only set for thirty minutes or so , the commercial guys can leave their nets , attendance requirements could be the answer !

      • I fish two weeks a year and throw back almost everything we catch. We kept 4 flounder over a week last year. I seriously doubt we are the problem!

  7. I believe those that voted for this closure should be investigated thoughly for ties to the imported seafood industry that is taking over. Family members and associates included!!

  8. I am a commerical fisherman,sport fisherman, and recreational fishermen the real problem is the people making the laws haven’t got a clue and recreational fishermen complaining they can’t catch flounder probably need help wiping their own a## I have seen some of the best fishing the last couple of years but then again I am a fisherman not a paper pusher that just sits behind a desk.

    • I am from Michigan. Currently working in North Carolina. Its easy for everyone to point fingers at the next guy. Fisheries division wants to protect the fishery but doesn’t want to add extra work load to enforcement. So they recommend a closure. What the people voting on this need to think about is the economic imact a total closure will have. Everyone involved in the fishery needs to ne able to keep doing their thing. But limits need to be tightened up. Reduce limits on recreational reduced limits on sport and more protection on by catch. I am no expert on trawling but is it possible that shorter trawl pulls would result in less mortality of by catch? I understand that adds extra work load to the commercial fisherman and recreational fisherman. But if that resulted in less mortality and improved the fishery is it not a win for everyone. When the great lakes suffer from reduced fish numbers the economy suffers from reduced angler time on the water. Closing a season of such a popular fish as the flounder would have a major impact on the economy. The law makers need to think this over before they jump the gun. There are ways to protect the fishery with out closing the season.

  9. Fl passed a constitutional amendment back in the 90s outlawing gill nets. The result was the return of mullet and all other species. NC needs to do this to revive the entire fishery.

    • No, do your research. After Florida banned the use of Gill nets, New Smyrna became the shark biting capital….my God, do your research. The Florida waters and the fish stock are DEAD. Quit being babies because commercial fisheam catch more than you do playing. The fish a good and respectful commmercial fisherman catches feed the masses. They have been regulated out of a lively hood so the sports can play and feed their egos. And don’t get me started on the pencil pushing people making these obsired rules, maybe get your ass out there and see for yourself.

      • you do your research –commercial fishermen and netters have RUINED the flounder stocks and yet you’re so prejuiced you can see the forest for the trees.

        • BAN THE DAMN GILL NETS FOR GODS SAKES THIS STATE IS PATHETIC !!!!!!!!

          Everybody knows it’s the damn nets , BAN THE DAMN NETS NOW !!!!!

  10. If stock status is soo bad -same as Rock in Neuse River – shut it down for ALL until stock status up and plan GOOD management process for future before opening again

  11. A true example of the epitome of stupidity the lawmakers have no clue they probably don’t even own fishing rods paper pushers is all they are if you can’t catch flounder find me more prevalent now than ever

  12. I’m a recreational fisherman and last few years have been great, …not only the netters but trawlers raping the creeks and rivers watched them and thousand pound of flounder mixed in when there shrimping…that’s the issue more things csnt grow if caught in the trawls and killed…Need to flood Raleigh in Au6 let them no we not taking it no more….they done it to the drum, stripers where will it end

    • Thank you Gary you said it correctly.The trawlers are raping our rivers and sounds. The recreational fisherman can never make a species of fish extent with a hook and pole. However somebody sitting behind a desk makes the rules that does not know a thing about fishing makes the rules.
      It is just like the Rock fish laws. Just keep the first two that you catch over 18″ and go home. When you throw most of these fish back they die.

  13. I can see both sides and agree something must be done. I would suggest lowering commercial quota’s. My Dad loved to shrimp to shrimp and growing up he would always take me along. While culling scrimp I remember seeing a large number of very small flounder. I think killing the juveniles is a bigger reason for the decline in the flounder population

    • David Lewis, that’s as honest as one can get and I agree 100%. Over netting is the main cause of bycatch. Also, increase the flounder min size to 18″. A 15″ flounder isn’t worth taking. There’s hardly ANY meat on the lower/white side. Reduce to 3 fish per day per person. There are other ways than just shutting it down.

  14. I flounder gig every now and then for a couple of flounder. Love doing it and love taking someone for their first time. My grandfather took me and I want to take my grandkids one day. I don’t go out every night, don’t fill a cooler full and never have even before there was limits. I never gig a founder that I’m not sure of it’s size. I went out one night with a commercial fisherman friend on the river to watch him pull a net. It was for recreation and put some shrimp in his freezer. I remind you he is a commercial fisherman and does this for a living on the big boats. This night and others we’re just for his personal gain. I was astounded at the amount of bycatch that was killed in the process of a hundred Yard net. Baby flounder and many other spieces of fish slaughtered just to get shrimp. It was heart breaking to watch and see all that was killed just to get a targeted catch. What was worse was looking up and seeing all the other boats around us doing the same thing. There must have been 20 or more. If you do some math it doesn’t take a scientist to figure out that this is your fish reduction problem. NOT the recreational fisherman. Take a moment and think about all the boats out there dragging nets. That’s a lot killing. I know commercial fisherman need to make a living but I look at it like this. When you have a career and the business your in dries up you need to change careers or move to change your career practices. Commercial fisherman have never been willing to change nor will they ever be. Why would they. The commercial fisherman has for years gotten away with killing a industry and not have to be held accountable for their actions. The recreational fisherman always gets hit with the blame and punished along with the commercial fisherman in attempt to appease the commercial side. It’s bull and they all know it. Stop punishing the wrong side for a change and do what needs to be done to get our fish levels back so we have fish in the future. End the season for commercial fisherman only and no more dragging nets in sounds and rivers for a awhile. The numbers will rise. Garanteed!

  15. I was a commercial Fisherman offshore bottom fishing ,,hook and line for reef fish ,,I saw fish catches decline drastically in 7 years it was amazing …been on a shrimp boat little and big and the “by catch of juvenile flounder and any other kind of fish in our water is staggering ,,,shovel loads of dead crushed fish from 1 inch to 4 4 or 5 inch size …there is no way regulating taking of adult fish alone will resupply the stocks if the juvenile fish are killed by the ton each day ,,,sad part on the other side the ” bad guys commercial fisherman are barely able to scratch out a living and work 5x longer and harder for less and less $$ ..they dont want to wipe out a fishery either,,, just trying to feed their family ..only fisherman that are making $ and in my mind are the issue are the big fish companies that target a species then they move to the next .. the nets hurt every fishery and we can grow shrimp ,,maybe build open water tanks to gtow thenm so they have better flavor …I don’t know ,,but restricting ppl who grew up gigging and catching flounder generations back isn’t the right way …in my opion

  16. The recreational fisherman will never make a species of fish extent with a hook and line. The commercial trawlers invade the rivers, sounds and creeks where our fish are born and raised. Each time a trawler fishes these areas it is killing thousands of juvenile fish along with the breeding stock. It is plain and simple restrict these areas from commercial fishermen and our fish populations will come back.

    • Makes sense. Commercial fishers need to go out in the ocean and stay away from the creeks, inlets and sounds. More care must be taken with approved nets and throw the small fish back in bf it’s too late.

      • The by-catch is tossed overboard as the net is brought in and cleaned for use next time. Hop a trawler and work it for a few days. Different ones. Please don’t rely on word of mouth or questionnaires to help the study. Actually do several trawlers and keep and wiegh the by-catch just for shitz n giggles. On site and firsthand.

      • I gigged in the shallows and rarely see small flounder. Those trawlers operate in a “line” 1000ft offshore. Close enough you can read the names standing on a beach. Five or six lined up catching everything.

    • Exactly right the hook and line guy is not the problem. You guys that make the laws know that. Please do something about it. If you don’t the problem is only going to get worse.

  17. They keep on stopping people from fishing they want have a job to do. If they go to do all of this then they need to charge less for licenses.

  18. Y’all are really full of shit recreational guys dead flounder don’t float and 15 inch fish have plenty of meat y’all just run your mouths

  19. For starters, the picture you used is a summer flounder. Rec anglers took a 33% cut in 2017 and rec anglers are not the problem. The gill net needs to be banned completely and a quota put on pound nets along with a moratorium on any new pounds.

  20. Not to worry. The World Economic Forum predicts that by 2050, there will be more plastic in the oceans than fish.

  21. People don’t worry about the real problems like plastic dirty water and run off they just want to try to put people out of jobs and joe Morrison some people like looking at boats working instead of looking at married women on the beach if people would work together to clean up the nasty water the fish would pour into the sounds and rivers but that’s not really what some of y’all want just stopping a working man or woman is the plan for some of y’all

  22. Can anyone tell me the source of the information for the flounder population? I heard or read somewhere that it was from surveys conducted by young college students… I am a recreational flounder gig or that goes on more than 50 gigging trips per year. The flounder population this year is better than I’ve seen in the past 5 years combined and around 70% of my take are the Southern flounder species… I just find it very hard to believe that these statistics are accurate

  23. Funny how most complaints about commercial fishing are coming from people who want to enjoy seafood on the dinner table for the cheapest price. Grow up. This is about money and protecting party boats. Typical corn cobs here.

  24. Look up n.c shimp bycatch pamlico sound and you will see the problem with the fishery they should be in jail!! This happen every time they pull the net in 24/7 on every boat do the math. They could care less about the fishery its all about the money. What do you think flounder will cost per pound after this?

  25. If the stock is depleted as bad as they say shut it all down .Continue to increase runoff and pollute our waters and watch numbers keep decreasing.Its not over fished it over polluted.

  26. I also live on the water and a buddy of mine went fishing off the bank and a recreational fishing boat came up with a 100 white perch and gave them to him and then went right back and caught another cooler full he didn’t want and I see it all the time so some of y’all act like y’all care so much about it and I see different and at the fishing meetings must of the ones acting like they care are ones carry people out and getting paid

  27. Lived by the sea everyday have commercial and recreational friends that I both hep and fish with all the time. From first hand experience I must agree that the GILL NETS MUST STOP. The commercial fisherman are taking a HUGE toll on our waters here in N.C.. Look at our states next door SC and Virginia have a great fishery and strict net laws. Also the weight quota is way to high for commercial giggers and netters. Doesn’t matter until the law makers take a look for themselves to see what is going on.

  28. Move to South Carolina Benjamin bye the way they sell tons of herrings every year and North Carolina has cut back commercial fishing about 75 percent in a few years but you want be happy until you have it all and they have nothing

  29. I had a small net boat with commercial license for 25+ years in NC and every time I pulled the shrimp net in it had thousands of baby fish of every species in it and they were all dead! SC did not allow that then or now! I also set gill nets in the waterway and along the beaches. SC did not Allow that either. Now what states are cry about have a problem?

  30. I been shrimping for 27 years we are slowly but shurly just about out of business there is not even half of boats now as it was when I started do u know how many recreation dingbatters fishermen they are sheww I’m wid ceil Jones he should know he has caught more one tow most people ever seen.but tha dmf is not gonna be happy till they starve us out I’m gonna do it till I die no matter what

  31. These people need to work in a fishermens boots one good time. Thees are all yankees that sit here and want to set laws do drive the locals out of what they’ve been doing all their lives. People need to leave the waters to who knows them and that’s NOT someone sitting in an office in Raleigh. If you aren’t from here you shoulnd’t have a say so on what goes on and if you are from here and think all these bans and closures should be put in place, you need to move.

  32. Well if there is a shortage of flounder its not where I am fishing. I have always fished away from the crowd and looked for backwater areas with less pressure. I will typically flounder fish 5-6 days from late June to early September and in the past 2 year I have limited out more days than not. I noticed the last 2 years we did not find the larger 23-24 in fish as much but there were a decent amount of fish in the 18-20in range.

  33. I cannot speak for the commercial fisherman but as a recreational fisherman I most definitely can say that flounder poaching in our waterways and inlets is a serious issue. I thank God for the fish he has blessed me with over the years I have been gigging because without fishing I don’t know what I’d do but it is sad that almost every time I go gigging someone else gigs all the flounder I pass up that are too small and wonders why there aren’t many fish or why actions such as this are put in place .I hope and pray not to lose this fishery in regards for law abiding sportsman like myself and it’s importance in my life and to my family.

  34. They are always quoting the economic impact that commercial fishing brings to the area. That is dwarfed by the economic impact that recreational fishermen have. I could buy flounder by the pound for 10 times less than what I spend to catch a few. Tackle shops are not the only ones benefiting. We bring our families and stay in hotels, motels and rent houses. We eat in restaurants and buy from local shops. I want a healthy fishery. The gill nets are the most wasteful thing I see. I would love to see that shut down.

  35. I say make rules, quotas, seasons, whatever needs to be done! Do it wisely so the stock can be improved. I will say however that I have fished commercial for flounder since I was 16 years old. I have seen size limits go from no limit to 11 inches to 13 inches up to present 15 inch limit. I have seen net sizes and setting requirements all change. I only gig commercial lily. I have maintained my license for 54 years. Don’t change the gear a man chooses to fish with, change rules that will be fair to all. Just my opinion. I will add though, trawling in the inland waters seriously should be looked at!

  36. Outlaw the GILL NETS!!
    Outlaw any commercial fishing in estuaries and backwaters.
    If it is so drastic to close a fishery, do it for all.
    N.C. does not issue any new commercial fishing license, but yet N.C. is honoring out of state commercial licenses.
    This must stop as well.
    Around Oriental there are gill netters with FL. bouies.and boats.
    Only locals should be allowed in the commercial industry in N.C.
    Sorry if they outlawed it in your state, but coming here should not be permitted.
    What ever #s they want to come up with that the rec man is harvesting is bogus, it’s only speculative, whatever # they put on it you can bet money it’s a 1/4 or less of what they say.
    Never had to keep books on my rec catch.
    In 20 years of fishing in nc I personally haven’t caught more than 500 lbs of fish from the ocean.
    And “poaching” can only refer to giggers taking small fish in big numbers, which really can’t amount to much.
    That can be stopped but remember that our enforcement agencies are government employees and dont want to WORK for a living.
    They would rather harass people during the day, cause its easier.
    Changes to the commission also need to happen. Such as not being appointed by the governor. Rather it would be more fair and effective to have all people paying for licenses, commercial or rec, do the voting for who sits on the commission.
    What has been laid out here will fix the problem.

  37. I see a lot of finger pointing on this I am not a resident of the state but do purchase a non resident license every year so has anyone considered filing a freedom of information act to get the information they are using to try and impose this senseless regulation.

  38. The commercial fishing industry is and has been in the pocket of the politicians. Until this changes we will keep getting it in the hind end.

    • BINGO , banning gill nets should of happened decades ago , what has been allowed to happen to the flounder in this state is criminal .

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    The Federal Register
    The Daily Journal of the United States Government
    Proposed Rule
    Fisheries of the Northeastern United States; Recreational Management Measures for the Summer Flounder Fishery; Fishing Year 2019
    A Proposed Rule by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on 05/17/2019

    Comments on this document are being accepted at Regulations.gov. SUBMIT A FORMAL COMMENT
    DOCUMENT DETAILS
    Printed version:
    PDF
    Publication Date:
    05/17/2019
    Agencies:
    National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
    Dates:
    Comments must be received by June 3, 2019.
    Comments Close:
    06/03/2019
    Document Type:
    Proposed Rule
    Document Citation:
    84 FR 22426
    Page:
    22426-22429 (4 pages)
    CFR:
    50 CFR 648
    Agency/Docket Number:
    Docket No. 190415375-9375-01
    RIN:
    0648-BI92
    Document Number:
    2019-10249
    DOCUMENT DETAILS
    DOCUMENT STATISTICS
    Page views:
    901
    as of 07/05/2019 at 6:15 am EDT
    DOCUMENT STATISTICS
    PUBLISHED DOCUMENT
    AGENCY:
    National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce.

    ACTION:
    Proposed rule; request for comments.

    SUMMARY:
    NMFS proposes management measures for the 2019 summer flounder recreational fishery. The implementing regulations for this fishery require NMFS to publish recreational measures for the fishing year and to provide an opportunity for public comment. The intent of this action is to constrain recreational catch to the summer flounder recreational harvest limit and thereby, prevent overfishing on the summer flounder stock.

    DATES:
    Comments must be received by June 3, 2019.

    ADDRESSES:
    You may submit comments on this document, identified by NOAA-NMFS-2019-0025, by either of the following methods:

    Electronic submission: Submit all electronic public comments via the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal.

    Go to http://www.regulations.gov/​#!docketDetail;​D=​NOAA-NMFS-2019-0025,
    Click the “Comment Now!” icon, complete the required fields
    Enter or attach your comments.
    -OR-

    Mail: Submit written comments to Michael Pentony, Regional Administrator, Greater Atlantic Region, 55 Great Republic Drive, Gloucester, MA 01930.

    Instructions: Comments sent by any other method, to any other address or individual, or received after the end of the comment period, may not be considered by NMFS. All comments received are a part of the public record and will generally be posted for public viewing on http://www.regulations.gov without change. All personal identifying information (e.g., name, address, etc.), confidential business information, or otherwise sensitive information submitted voluntarily by the sender will be publicly accessible. NMFS will accept anonymous comments (enter “N/A” in the required fields if you wish to remain anonymous).

    FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:
    Emily Gilbert, Fishery Policy Analyst, (978) 281-9244.

    SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:
    Summary of Proposed Management Measures
    In this rule, NMFS proposes management measures for the 2019 summer flounder recreational fishery consistent with the recommendations of the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council (Council) and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (Commission). NMFS proposes to waive Federal summer flounder recreational measures in Federal waters of the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and to all federally permitted summer flounder party/charter vessels, regardless of where they fish, so long as the states, through the Commission, collectively implement measures designed to constrain landings to the 2019 recreational harvest limit.Start Printed Page 22427

    Background and Management Process
    The summer flounder fishery is managed cooperatively under the provisions of the Summer Flounder, Scup, and Black Sea Bass Fishery Management Plan (FMP) developed by the Council and the Commission, in consultation with the New England and South Atlantic Fishery Management Councils. The management unit specified in the FMP includes summer flounder (Paralichthys dentatus) in U.S. waters of the Atlantic Ocean from the southern border of North Carolina northward to the U.S./Canada border. States manage summer flounder within 3 nautical miles (4.83 km) of their coasts, under the Commission’s plan for summer flounder. The summer flounder Federal regulations govern vessels and individual fishermen fishing in Federal waters of the EEZ, as well as vessels possessing a summer flounder charter/party vessel permit, regardless of where they fish.

    Recreational Management Measures Process
    The FMP established a monitoring committee for summer flounder consisting of representatives from the Commission, the Council, state marine fishery agency representatives from Massachusetts to North Carolina, and NMFS. The FMP’s implementing regulations require the monitoring committee to review scientific and other relevant information annually. The objective of this review is to recommend management measures to the Council that will constrain landings within the recreational harvest limit for the upcoming fishing year. The FMP limits the choices for the types of measures to minimum fish size, per angler possession limit, and fishing season.

    The Council and the Commission’s Summer Flounder, Scup, and Black Sea Bass Management Board then consider the monitoring committee’s recommendations and any public comment in making their recommendations. The Council forwards its recommendations to NMFS for review. The Commission similarly adopts recommendations for the states. NMFS is required to review the Council’s recommendations to ensure that they are consistent with the target specified for summer flounder in the FMP and all applicable laws and Executive Orders before ultimately implementing measures for Federal waters. Commission measures are final at the time they are adopted.

    Summer Flounder Conservation Equivalency Process
    Conservation equivalency, as established by Framework Adjustment 2 (July 11, 2001; 66 FR 36208), allows each state to establish its own recreational management measures (possession limits, minimum fish size, and fishing seasons) to achieve its state management target partitioned by the Commission from the coastwide recreational harvest limit, as long as the combined effect of all of the states’ management measures achieves the same level of conservation as would Federal coastwide measures. Framework Adjustment 6 (July 26, 2006; 71 FR 42315) allowed states to form regions for conservation equivalency in order to minimize differences in regulations for anglers fishing in adjacent waters.

    The Council and Board annually recommend that either state- or region-specific recreational measures be developed (conservation equivalency) or that coastwide management measures be implemented to ensure that the recreational harvest limit will not be exceeded. Even when the Council and Board recommend conservation equivalency, the Council must specify a set of coastwide default measures that would apply if conservation equivalency is not approved for use in Federal waters.

    When conservation equivalency is recommended, and following confirmation that the proposed state or regional measures developed through the Commission’s technical and policy review processes achieve conservation equivalency, NMFS may waive the permit condition found at 50 CFR 648.4(b), which requires Federal permit holders to comply with the more restrictive management measures when state and Federal measures differ. In such a situation, federally permitted summer flounder charter/party permit holders and individuals fishing for summer flounder in the EEZ are subject to the recreational fishing measures implemented by the state in which they land summer flounder, rather than the coastwide measures.

    In addition, the Council and the Board must recommend precautionary default measures when recommending conservation equivalency. The Commission would require adoption of the precautionary default measures by any state that either does not submit a summer flounder management proposal to the Commission’s Summer Flounder Technical Committee, or that submits measures that would exceed the Commission-specified harvest limit for that state.

    The development of conservation equivalency measures happens at both the Commission and the individual state level. The selection of appropriate data and analytical techniques for technical review of potential state conservation equivalent measures and the process by which the Commission evaluates and recommends proposed conservation equivalent measures are wholly a function of the Commission and its individual member states. Individuals seeking information regarding the process to develop specific state measures or the Commission process for technical evaluation of proposed measures should contact the marine fisheries agency in the state of interest, the Commission, or both.

    Once the states and regions select their final 2019 summer flounder management measures through their respective development, analytical, and review processes and submit them to the Commission, the Commission will conduct further review and evaluation of the submitted proposals, ultimately notifying NMFS as to which proposals have been approved or disapproved. NMFS has no overarching authority in the development of state or Commission management measures, but is an equal participant along with all the member states in the review process. NMFS neither approves nor implements individual states’ measures, but retains the final authority either to approve or to disapprove the use of conservation equivalency in place of the coastwide measures in Federal waters. NMFS will publish its final determination on 2019 conservational equivalency as a final rule in the Federal Register following review of the Commission’s determination and any other public comment on this proposed rule.

    2019 Summer Flounder Recreational Management Measures
    At their joint meeting in March 2019, the Council and Board recommended revised summer flounder specifications for 2019. These revisions resulted from the 2018 summer flounder benchmark assessment, which was one of the first assessments in the region to incorporate revised Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP) information. The summer flounder assessment concluded that the stock is not overfished and overfishing is not occurring relative to updated biological reference points. Although recruitment has been below average since 2011 for unknown reasons, the inclusion of new estimates of recreational catch from MRIP increased the biomass of the population compared to previous assessments.Start Printed Page 22428

    Based on the results of the assessment, the recommended revised 2019 summer flounder recreational harvest limit is 7.69 million lb (3,488 mt), a 74-percent increase from the 2018 harvest limit of 4.42 million pounds (2,005 mt), and a 49-percent increase compared to what is currently in place for 2019 (5.15 million pounds; 2,336 mt). A separate rulemaking revising the 2019 specifications, including the recreational harvest limit, is being prepared and must be finalized before NMFS can publish a final rule for this action.

    As previously mentioned, the Council and Board recommended conservation equivalency in Federal waters. Based on the Council’s and the Board’s recommendations, and as part of the conservation equivalency process, NMFS also proposes a suite of non-preferred coastwide measures, consistent with those adopted by the Council and Board for implementation in 2019. Under conservation equivalency, the cumulative impact of the regional recreational measures should achieve the same constraints on harvest as the non-preferred coastwide measures. For 2019, non-preferred coastwide measures approved by the Council and Board are a 19-inch (48.3-cm) minimum fish size, a 4-fish per person possession limit, and an open season from May 15-September 15. These measures are identical to the non-preferred 2018 coastwide measures. These measures are expected to constrain the overall recreational landings to the 2019 recreational harvest limit, should conservation equivalency be disapproved based on the Commission’s recommendation letter. If a jurisdiction’s measures do not achieve the level of conservation required by the Commission, that state or region must implement the precautionary default measures. The 2019 precautionary default measures recommended by the Council and Board are identical to those in place for 2018: A 20.0-inch (50.8-cm) minimum fish size; a 2-fish per person possession limit; and an open season of July 1-August 31, 2018.

    Although the Council and Board’s recommended 2019 recreational harvest limit is an increase compared to what was in place in 2018, preliminary harvest estimates using the updated MRIP methodology indicate that the 2018 recreational landings are 7.17 million pounds (3,252 mt). As a result, the Council and Board do not recommend liberalizing any recreational measures (e.g., state waters measures, the non-preferred coastwide and precautionary default measures required through conservation equivalency) due to the increase in expected 2019 catch based on the revised MRIP information (i.e., if measures remain in place, they are expected to constrain catch to the 2019 harvest limit).

    Similar to 2016-2018, the 2019 management program adopted by the Commission divides the coastline into six management regions: (1) Massachusetts; (2) Rhode Island; (3) Connecticut-New York; (4) New Jersey; (5) Delaware-Virginia; and (6) North Carolina. Each state within a region must implement identical or equivalent measures (minimum size, bag limit, and fishing season length), and the combination of those measures must be sufficient to constrain landings to the recreational harvest limit.

    Through the Commission process, states may submit proposals for conservationally equivalent measures that would maintain status quo harvest levels relative to the preliminary 2018 recreational harvest. Proposals for conservationally equivalent state measures were reviewed by the Board’s Technical Committee in late March, and the Board considered final approval in early April 2019. Following the Board’s consideration of final 2019 state measures, the Commission must submit a letter to NMFS stating whether the states have met the conservation objectives under Addendum XXXII to the Commission’s Interstate FMP and that catch is expected to constrain catch to the 2019 recreational harvest limit. Once that letter is received and the revised 2019 specifications are approved, NMFS will be able to publish a final recreational management measures rule with a conservation equivalency determination for 2019.

    Additionally, this proposed rule includes a revision to the regulations implementing the FMP to update text that is unnecessary, outdated, unclear, or otherwise could be improved. NMFS proposes these changes consistent with section 305(d) of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (Magnuson-Stevens Act), which provides that the Secretary of Commerce may promulgate regulations necessary to ensure that amendments to a fishery management plan (FMP) are carried out in accordance with the FMP and the Magnuson-Stevens Act. The revision at § 648.14(p)(2)(ii)(B), which pertains to a prohibition against possessing, retaining, or landing black sea bass harvested from the EEZ in excess of the commercial possession limit, would be removed from the regulations. There is no Federal waters commercial black sea bass possession limit and, as such, this regulatory text is confusing and unnecessary.

    Classification
    Pursuant to section 304(b)(1)(A) of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the Assistant Administrator has determined that this proposed rule is consistent with the Summer Flounder, Scup, and Black Sea Bass FMP, other provisions of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, and other applicable law, subject to further consideration after public comment.

    This proposed rule has been determined to be not significant for purposes of Executive Order 12866.

    The Chief Counsel for Regulation of the Department of Commerce certified to the Chief Counsel for Advocacy of the Small Business Administration that this proposed rule, if adopted, would not have a significant economic impact on a substantial number of small entities. The Council conducted an evaluation of the potential socioeconomic impacts of the proposed measures. According to the commercial ownership database, 351 for-hire affiliate firms generated revenues from recreational fishing for various species during the 2015-2017 period. All of those business affiliates are categorized as small businesses. Estimating what proportion of the overall revenues for these for-hire firms came from fishing activities for an individual species is not possible. Nevertheless, given the popularity of summer flounder as a recreational species in the Mid-Atlantic and New England, generated revenues are likely very important for many of these firms at certain times of the year. The 3-year average (2015-2017) combined gross receipts (all for-hire fishing activity combined) for these small entities was $52,460,560 ranging from less than $10,000 for 79 entities (lowest value $81) to over $1,000,000 for 9 entities (highest value $2.8 million).

    This action would waive Federal measures in lieu of state measures designed to reach the 2019 harvest limit. The economic impacts of the proposed measures in this action will be affected in part by the specific set of measures implemented at the state level for summer flounder conservation equivalency. The impacts are likely to vary by state, but are expected to be equivalent to measures that were in place in 2018. The summer flounder recreational measures under conservation equivalency are expected to neither reduce nor increase recreational satisfaction or for-hire revenues when compared to 2018. Demand for for-hire trips is expected to remain approximately the same as in 2018. Thus, market demand is expected to be similar in 2019, although this is likely to vary by state depending on Start Printed Page 22429each state’s current measures and how they choose to modify them in 2019.

    Because the 2019 measures are expected to be mostly identical to 2018, this rule will not have a significant economic impact on a substantial number of small entities. Therefore, an initial regulatory flexibility analysis is not required and none has been prepared.

    There are no new reporting or recordkeeping requirements contained in any of the alternatives considered for this action.

    List of Subjects in 50 CFR Part 648
    Fisheries
    Fishing
    Reporting and recordkeeping requirements
    Dated: May 13, 2019.

    Samuel D. Rauch III,

    Deputy Assistant Administrator for Regulatory Programs, National Marine Fisheries Service.

    For the reasons set out in the preamble, 50 CFR part 648 is proposed to be amended as follows:

    PART 648—FISHERIES OF THE NORTHEASTERN UNITED STATES
    1. The authority citation for part 648 continues to read as follows:

    Authority: 16 U.S.C. 1801 et seq.

    § 648.14 [Amended]
    2. In § 648.14, remove and reserve paragraph (p)(2)(ii)(B).

    3. In § 648.107, the introductory text to paragraph (a) is revised to read as follows:

    § 648.107 Conservation equivalent measures for the summer flounder fishery.
    (a) The Regional Administrator has determined that the recreational fishing measures proposed to be implemented by the states of Maine through North Carolina for 2019 are the conservation equivalent of the minimum size, season, and possession limit prescribed in §§ 648.104(b), 648.105, and 648.106. This determination is based on a recommendation from the Summer Flounder Board of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission.

    * * * * *
    [FR Doc. 2019-10249 Filed 5-16-19; 8:45 am]

    BILLING CODE 3510-22-P

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  40. The average daily by-catch from a trawler kills more fish than the rec fisherman will in their lifetime, period. Ban gill nets, ban netting from the sounds, estuaries, & rivers. This will do the most good.
    Also think about a guy like me who drives 5 hours one way to fish (& catch groceries too). We spend a crap ton of money on gas, lodging, licenses, bait & tackle, restaurants, local shops, etc. I love to fish but when seasons are ended or limits are lowered it gets to be not even worth the time.

  41. It all boils down to agendas and bogus data! The researchers collecting data are not even fishermen. They have a sheepskin diploma that landed their position and conducted research in fishing grounds that a commercial or skilled recreational fishermen would never waste their time fishing. Research where and how the data is gathered. We all know that fishing in 20’ of water in the middle of the sound is not a productive way to catch flounder.

  42. The problem is this entire ignorant size limit on fish you catch. There should be no size limit on anything. The fundamental issue is 80-90% of fish released end up dying. So now you took a fish someone could have eaten.. Killed it by releasing it and people will continue to fish until they catch a legal size fish. Average fisherman might release 10 fish before catching a keeper. Think it was the university of Maryland that did the study on released fish mortality rates. Doesn’t matter how careful you are when catching &releasing the fish, it is more than likely going to die. So this is just another example of the total incompetence of Government.

  43. My name is Paul and I am 78 years old. I fish for flounder in October and I have already rented a place at Emerald Isle. I can assure you I do very little to hurt the flounder population. How can you limit the recreational fisherman and very little to regulate commercial fishermen. Please how do you justify that.

  44. I’ve been fishing on the coast of North Carolina since I was a teenager with my dad. I’ve literally seen commercial fishermen cut the beach fishermen off with their nets just so they could catch a school of mullet. I’ve seen them pull their nests up on the beach and the bycatch that was in it. I saw them mistake a school of big hogfish for a school of mullet. When they pulled the net up on the beach they left a pile of fish 16 foot wide by 20 feet long and three feet high. The recreational fishermen filled coolers full up with fish, but the majority of the fish were left on the beach to rot. This was when size limits were just coming into effect for recreational fishermen. I remember the legal size limit for flounder was 14” but we rarely caught a flounder under 16 to 17 inches. This debate can go on forever, but here is part of the solution. Stop the inland commercial fishing in the sounds in North Carolina. Vote! If the guys that are making these laws don’t do what the majority wants vote them out of office. Don’t allow them multiple terms to mess up our fisheries. Join together and put a stop to this insanity. The commercial industry has a lot of clout and money backing them, and don’t think for an instant that they aren’t calling the shots. But if we start sending a message that we are not going to tolerate this, then and only then will things change to benefit everyone. I have seen this go on for over 44 years where the regulations and moratoriums were put on the recreational fishermen and the commercial fishermen just keep getting by with whatever. I do not believe that the recreational fisherman takes near as much from our coast as the commercial. Let the commercial fishermen sit home for two seasons and see what that does to the fishery. I do believe there is a solution to the problem, but you can’t sacrifice one group for the other. Both recreational and commercial fishermen have a right to this fishery, but make it fair to both. But I will always believe we have to vote the problem people out of our system and get the right people in office. We have to let them know that we recreational fishermen mean business. I am also ware this effects the cost of seafood, restaurants , and jobs. But it also effects tourism.

  45. I’m only a recreation fisherman. I was putting my boat in one morning and met 3 giggers coming out. Noticed they were really quiet when I asked them how they had done. The next evening I was taking my boat out and met the same guys putting back in for another night of gigging. One called me to the side and told me this is why he was so quiet the day before as he showed me pictures of about 50 flounder they gigged the night before. They had no commercial gigging license. I’m sure they aren’t the only ones doing this. I’m also sure there are people who won’t throw back a 14 7/8″ flounder. I know you can’t catch everyone but I also see the wildlife officers, sheriff and marine patrol boats crusing the waterway every day but only see one or two boats checked. If we done a little better job of inforcing the limits we have, I’m sure you would see a big difference the number of keeper fish caught. (I just spent 20 days fishing the waterway. Caught 22 flounder. Only 7 were keepers. I considered that a good trip. People like myself are not hurting the population.

  46. Oh, and by the way for you guys that say we need to ride the shrimp boats and do more first hand research. Let me give you some first hand research. One of my neighbors at the beach bought 75lbs of shrimp from a shrimper. In that 75lbs were around 80 to 100 tiny flounder. You tell me where the problem is.

  47. I’ve fished North Carolina recreationally for flounder for 40 years and am thinking about retiring at a beach, probably Emerald Isle. I’ve already booked and paid for rental property in October and was planning to flounder fish. Having learned of this proposed change in regulations, I’ll still go to Emerald Isle for the vacation since the reservation cannot be canceled with refund, but will not be looking for property as planned. I have also now booked the first week of December to research South Carolina beaches and property for potential purchase for retirement. Maybe other states will appreciate our money more than our legislators in North Carolina.

    • You’re doing the right thing , N.C is a national disgrace and flounder fishing has been completely dead for years .

      Anybody claiming it’s good is a compulsive liar and they know they’re lying .

  48. Been fishing King mackeral tournament s for years. Many time in front of inlets where the shrimp boats work scooping everything up as it’s sucked into the ocean. Known fact to drag KM bait behind trawlers produces Kings. Well it will sadden e to see all the floating dead by catch they dump overboard. It’s just WRONG. We r over fished and our government just keeps letting this go on. They can control our catch but still allowed the mass killing of all coastal fish. Please make a stand to protect our resources

  49. Why is N.C. the State so behind the others. Commercial fishing has its place, but dragging nets and killing all else is not what we need. They should have a limit just as the recreational fisherman has. Ban the nets and clean the trash is what we need to focus on if anyone wants to continue to enjoy fishing.

  50. Recreational fishing far exceeds commercial fishing when it comes to the dollar amount per fish caught it provides to the local economy. Simple math end of story

  51. If you are going to shut down the flounder fishing completely for recreational fishermen then the same should be done for commercial. I work my tail off so I can afford a boat, tackle, gas, rod and reels and fishing licenses. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

  52. Bottom line whether commercial fisherman are willing to own up to the decline is on them. Recreational fisherman surely are not the cause of decline. Look at neighboring states it tells all, better yet go to Louisiana where all commercial gill netting has been shut down for over a decade. You will catch a redfish, trout, flounder, or black drum on almost every cast, I have been a NC resident for over 30 yrs and travel Louisiana at least 3 times a yr to have incredible fishing trips, these types of fishing trips no longer exist in NC. STOP GILL NETTING.

  53. You can’t go by looks if you did a cow looks like he could out run a rabbit!I’m a weekend flounder fisherman and date all the fish I put in the freezer.last year 9 flounder 16 to 22 inches long.Bet my bottom dollar the better catches that many before I Can drive from statesville nc to ocean isle nc.stop those betters and fix the problem.Or after they wipe out the flounder they’ll wipe out out her species.My boat is 14 feet long so that means. I can haul more fish then they can,come on get real!

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