The Flounder Wars

Summer flounder, delaware, sussex county, inland bay
Summer flounder

There is a lot of misinformation going around about the new “proposed” flounder regulations.  Some of the info is so off that it is causing people to get up in arms, pointing fingers at each other.  Some groups are starting petitions to stop the ASMFC.  The confusion being created as it turns out is the intention of some of the people putting out that information.  Get people fired up for your cause whether it is right or wrong, just so they can keep more fish.  Bring on the flounder wars.  I have seen some people quoted in New Jersey saying that this is the worst flounder fishing in sixty years, but don’t change anything.  The fact remains we have to do something before the stocks are severely overfished and regulated even more.  The reality is the ASMFC can close the whole show down.

juvenileflounder, cast nets, dsf, delaware surf fishing, bethany canal
Juvenile flounder caught by Tom Minio while cast netting for bait.

The flounder stock is in decline and has been the last few years, that is a fact we cannot ignore. Results of the assessment update indicate the summer flounder stock was not overfished but overfishing was occurring in 2015.  The main problem being that the recruitment is down, meaning less flounder are making it to a mature size and joining the spawning biomass.  This has been occurring the last few years according to the ASMFC.  The spawning stock biomass is down to nearly fifty-eight percent , that total only has to hit fifty percent to be considered over fished.   The ASMFC is worried that could occur as early as 2017 if the current creel limits are left in place.  Therefore,  the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission is going to reduce the amount of flounder that can be harvested recreationally and commercially by thirty percent.  Each state can make up its own limits to comply with this reduction based on their revised catch limits.  This is where the misinformation really kicks in, people are being told they could see much more than a thirty percent reduction and upwards of a fifty percent reduction.  There is a simple answer why that is possible.

Delaware has a creel limit of four fish, per angler, per day at sixteen inches.  At the current creel, Delaware will have a zero reduction but still be in compliance.  However we will not contribute to rebuilding the stocks at all, which is the whole point of a reduction.   An increase to the creel limit by one inch, take it to seventeen inches, would give us a reduction of only twenty-six percent with a four fish limit.  However if we had a season in Delaware of three hundred and fifty-two days, we could meet the reduction at thirty  percent.  So we would still get to keep four fish, but increase one inch in creel size, and have a season that would close some days for fishing from March to July.  That doesn’t seem too bad and puts Delaware in compliance.  Another option proposed was to have a longer closed season for Delaware, which would increase the reduction percentage to almost forty percent.  That is where the “panic” is coming from, by keeping four fish you would have a possible forty percent reduction with a shorter season.  Because all of these involve a four fish limit, it is creating a much larger reduction number with a shorter season or an increase in size limit. However, no one is talking about reducing the number of fish that can be kept.  Because as usual businesses are saying it will be detrimental to their sales. What would be really detrimental to their sales if we couldn’t fish for flounder at all.  This was one of the worst years in Delaware for flounder for the inland bays.  Offshore flounder fishing was pretty good with some very large fish being harvested.  The smaller fish were just not as abundant.

Summer Flounder Spawning Stock Biomass Assessment (2016)
Summer Flounder Spawning Stock Biomass Assessment (2016)
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Where does that leave Delaware?  DNREC has yet to announce any options.  We will have our chance to comment publicly on January 17, problem is most anglers have the wrong information.  Just once I would like to see anglers actually fight for the fish and not fight for as many fish they can keep.  A creel limit of two fish would certainly keep us in compliance, and allow us to help rebuild the stocks.  I don’t know the exact numbers and don’t want to speculate, but one would think by cutting the creel in half we would definitely fall in the thirty percent reduction and then some.  We could  even keep that ridiculously small size of sixteen inches.  If we set it at three fish, it would keep us in compliance,and help rebuild the stocks.  I have yet to see any choices, but I am sure we will have them by this public comment period.

The other issue with the misinformation is anglers are being told they could see a two fish limit at nineteen inches across the board for all of the coastal states.  That is not exactly true, the ASMF has a “default” limit in place if a state does not comply.  States are allowed to set their own new limits, but must be approved by the ASMFC.  If they do not meet the compliance percentage then they would be forced into the two fish at nineteen inch limit.  That however is not going to happen because not one state is going to allow that to happen.  For some states that would create up to a fifty percent reduction.   This is getting people fired up and that is that is where the”wars” are going to start.  People with bad information pointing fingers at each other placing blame.  Delaware anglers will complain about commercial anglers, we don’t even have a commercial flounder fishery.  We only have the by catch part of the fishery.  One group in New Jersey is planning on petitioning President Elect Donald Trump to reverse the ASMFC’s decision.  They don’t want to change anything.

The best way for you to make an informed decision is to read the Summer Flounder Draft Addendum XXVVII.  Personally I will be fighting for the fish, not the most amount I can keep, we can do better by our fishery and its future.  It is our responsibility as anglers to ensure we have fish for our future.

Fish On!

Rich King

ASMFC …. This assessment of summer flounder (Paralichthys dentatus) is an update through
2015 of commercial and recreational fishery catch data, research survey indices of abundance, and
the analyses of those data. The summer flounder stock was not overfished but overfishing was
occurring in 2015 relative to the biological reference points from the 2013 SAW 57 benchmark
assessment (NEFSC 2013; Figures 1-4). Fishing mortality on the fully selected age 4 fish ranged
between 0.799 and 1.775 during 1982-1996 and then decreased from 0.871 in 1997 to 0.288 in
2007. Since 2007 the fishing mortality rate has increased and was 0.390 in 2015, 26% above the
2013 SAW 57 FMSY proxy = F35% = 0.309 (Figures 1-3). The 90% confidence interval for F in
2015 was 0.292 to 0.490. Spawning stock biomass (SSB) decreased from 23,998 mt in 1982 to
5,331 mt in 1989 and then increased to peaks of 49,869 mt in 2003 and 46,272 mt in 2010. SSB
was estimated to be 36,240 mt in 2015, 58% of the 2013 SAW 57 SSBMSY proxy = SSB35% =
62,394 mt, and 16% above the 2013 SAW 57 ½ SSBMSY proxy = ½ SSB35% = 31,197 mt (Figures
1-2 & 4). The 90% confidence interval for SSB in 2015 was 32,605 to 44,425 mt. The 1983 and
1985 year classes are the largest in the assessment time series, at 75 and 62 million fish, while the
1988 year class is the smallest at only 10 million fish. The average recruitment from 1982 to 2015
is 41 million fish at age 0. Recruitment has been below average since 2010, ranging from 21 to 36
million and averaging 26 million fish (Figures 4-5).



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