Division of Marine Fisheries Director Steve Murphey has announced that the 2020 recreational flounder season will be Aug. 16 through Sept. 30 for internal and ocean waters of the state.
The minimum size limit will remain at 15 inches total length, and the creel limit will remain at four fish per person per day during the open recreational season.
Since all species of flounder are managed under the same recreational regulations, the recreational season applies to all recreational flounder fishing.
The season will be implemented by proclamation, which will be posted later this week on the Division of Marine Fisheries’ Proclamation Webpage.
In August 2019 the N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission adopted Amendment 2 to the Southern Flounder Fishery Management Plan. The plan established the framework for a 62% reduction in southern flounder harvest (compared to 2017) in North Carolina for 2019 and a 72% reduction in harvest beginning in 2020 to be achieved through various management measures, including recreational and commercial season closures.
Consequently, the commercial and recreational southern flounder seasons closed Sept. 4. Because the peak of the 2019 recreational season had already occurred, the recreational season was closed for the remainder of the year. Preliminary estimates of recreational catch indicate this closure resulted in a recreational harvest reduction of 16% in 2019.
The commercial season reopened for a short period in the fall. Preliminary landings data indicate the commercial season closure resulted in a commercial harvest reduction of 44% in 2019. The reduction was higher for the commercial sector because the peak commercial harvest had not occurred prior to the Sept. 4 closure.
The Division of Marine Fisheries analyzed a variety of scenarios for the 2020 recreational flounder season, including weekend openings with weekday closures, two-week stand-alone seasons, and holiday openings. However, the division determined these types of seasons would likely not result in the needed recreational harvest reductions.
Reductions in harvest are required because a 2019 South Atlantic Southern Flounder Stock Assessment found that southern flounder is overfished and overfishing is occurring throughout the region (North Carolina through the eastern coast of Florida). Overfished means the population is too small. Overfishing means the removal rate is too high.
North Carolina law mandates that fishery management plans include measures to end overfishing within two years and rebuild the stock to achieve sustainable harvest within 10 years of adoption of a fishery management plan.