The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission concedes that southern flounder, the most popular of Florida’s three flounders, is currently undergoing overfishing and is likely to be overfished. The FWC also states in an October 2019 stock assessment that the current fishing practices will continue to place southern flounder in an overfished state.
The history of flounder regulation in the state is straightforward: Prior to the net ban in 1995 there was none. Since January 1, 1996 flounder regs have remained unchanged; a 12-inch minimum with a ten fish recreational bag limit. Commercial limit? Besides the 12-inch minimum, there is none. Unlimited harvest.
Based on interviews with longtime and professional anglers from around the state, we’re long overdue for a flounder intervention.
“It’s horrible,” said Capt David Borries, Jacksonville, when asked to describe the current state of the flounder fishery. Richard Patton, a longtime Sebastian resident lamented, “I’ve watched it go from paradise to nothing in 45 years.” A similar sentiment was expressed from Capt. Jordan Todd, Port St. Joe: “It’s nothing like it used to be.”
Without a doubt there seems to be total agreement that flounder stocks are, er, floundering. Commercial landings tell a similar story. According to FWC’s Commercial Fishing Landings, pounds per trip were down 42% in 2018 vs. 2011. A total of 363,466 pounds were brought in in 2011, dropping to 153,728 in 2018.
There also seems to be agreement that the 10 fish per person limit is too high. And that the 12-inch minimum is too low. Equally agreed upon is that the number of big fish, over five pounds, is nothing like it was ten years ago, and that gigging has to be stopped or strictly curtailed. And as for unlimited commercial harvest: Utter embarrassment. Neighboring Alabama, which still hasn’t figured out how to get gillnets out of state waters, at least has a commercial flounder limit: 40 per vessel. Our other neighbor, Georgia, restricts commercial landings to 15 per person—same as for rec anglers.
It also seems water quality and lack of seagrass and suitable habitat is a common theme associated with the decline of the flounder fishery. Jordan Todd said, “Until they solve the problem of Atlanta water usage our bay is going to starve for water.” Patton said, “When the seagrass disappeared, so did the fish.”
What’s the Next Step?
Tell the FWC what you think. The FWC is prepared to hold public workshops on the flounder fishery around the state, once health authorities give the go-ahead. For now, it’s easy to share your observations with the commission online at www.MyFWC.com/SaltwaterComments.
I’ll start the comment pool here:
“It’s extremely rare to find a fish over five pounds today, commercial giggers used to be able to get 400-pounds a night, now they’re lucky to get 200 pounds. I’d reduce the bag limit to five fish per person and I’d ban commercial fishing during the November-January spawn.” Capt. Jordan Todd, Port St. Joe, FL.
“I’m totally against gigging. No captain I know keeps a 12-inch fish. A 15-inch fish is as small as I’d go. I’d support a closed season as well. I’d also like to see a limit of no more than five fish per person.” Capt. David Borries, Jacksonville.
“I’d ban gigging. You can see the giggers at night, it’s easy to see their lights. You see the gig holes on the fish at the market. I’d also cut the limit in half. No more than five fish is necessary.” Richard Patton, Sebastian
Your Call to Action is to be heard. Don’t miss this once in a generation opportunity to weigh in on flounder regulations. FS
CALL TO ACTION
To tell the FWC how you think flounder should be managed, CLICK HERE
Published Florida Sportsman Magazine May 2020