Fisheries panel places emergency limits on flounder catches

By on November 19, 2015

 After five hours of motions, amendments and haggling over details, the North Carolina Marine Fisheries Commission approved an emergency measure Thursday that will close down most fishing for southern flounder in the state’s sounds after Oct. 16.

The restrictions, which are aimed at allowing larger numbers of fish to migrate into the ocean to reach spawning age, were deemed necessary by the Division of Marine Fisheries even though the validity of a 2014 stock assessment was called into questions by a peer review.

While the closings will also apply to recreational anglers, commercial fishermen will take a big financial hit because the fall months are generally the most productive for catching flounder with gill and pound nets.

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The measure, approved as the commission met at Jennette’s Pier in Nags Head, comes in the form of a supplement to the Fisheries Management Plan. A supplement allows the MFC to act on its own in an emergency without the usual vetting by special committees and public comment that an amendment would require. In this case, however, public comment was invited.

Flounder is one of the largest fisheries in North Carolina and is a major component in the state’s promotion of local catches. In addition to questioning the need for restrictions in the absence of firm scientific evidence, critics of the emergency measures say they will put a serious crimp on sales of fresh local seafood.

Here is what the commission settled on:

  • A 15-inch minimum size limit for commercial and recreational fishing starting Jan. 1. The limit for commercial is now  14 inches.
  • Minimum mesh size for anchored gill nets will be 6 inches, an increase of a half inch to accomodate the larger minimum fish size.
  • Anchored large mesh gill and trammel net fisheries will close from Oct. 16 to Dec. 31.
  • Flounder pound nets will need a 5 3/4 inch escape panel, and landing quotas by body of water will be established to reflect a 38 percent reduction in landings based on 2011 to 2015 statistics.
  • Recreational fishing for flounder will close from Oct. 16 to Dec. 31 each year.

The emergency rules will be in effect until a new stock assessment is undertaken and the Fisheries Management Plan is amended to address flounder populations.

Marine Fisheries Director Louis Daniel said that process could take up to three years. He said he was optimistic that a stock assessment for North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida could start within a year.

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The commission put off deciding on an emergency measure in August, and on Thursday, it was starting to look like a stalemate was in the offing as two factions on the panel seemed unwilling to budge. Variations on six proposals were repeatedly rejected or amended.

Finally, a version of an earlier motion by Chuck Laughridge, who puts himself in the recreational camp, passed 6 to 3 with representatives of commerical interests voting no. Two of three new members of the commission voted for the measure.

Commercial fishing for flounder already took a hit this year because of closings to protect an unusually large number of sea turtles in the sounds.

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