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Marine Fisheries - 12 Southern Flounder SSR 2016

Marine Fisheries

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Southern Flounder

Southern Flounder — 2016

Stock Status – ConcernThe N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries (NCDMF) 2014 stock assessment of southern flounder in North Carolina Waters was not approved for management due to mixing of the stock on a regional scale (i.e. the U.S. South Atlantic). However, most data inputs in the stock assessment are considered valid for management. There are concerns about the sustainability of current harvest levels due to declining coastwide trends in juvenile and adult abundance and the high percentage of immature fish in the harvest. A regional stock assessment is underway including partners from Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina and is scheduled to be completed in 2017.

Average Commercial Landings and Value 2006-2015 — 1,901,530 lbs./ $4,529,948

2015 Commercial Landings and Value 1,202,871 lbs./ $3,804,996

Average Recreational Landings 2006-2015 360,947 lbs., 2015 – 236,416 lbs.

Average Number of Award Citations (5 lbs.) 2006-2015 343, 2015 374
Includes southern, summer and Gulf flounders.

Status of Fisheries Management Plan (FMP) A FMP for southern flounder was developed by the NCDMF in February 2005. Supplement A to the Southern Flounder FMP was implemented in February 2011 to achieve sustainable harvest in the recreational fishery while Amendment 1 to the FMP was being developed. Beginning in 2010, sea turtle settlement regulations impacted operations of the commercial large mesh gill net fishery, for which southern flounder is often the primary target. The federal FMP for summer flounder also affects the harvest of this species. The Southern Flounder FMP Amendment 1 was adopted in February 2013. Amendment 1 retained some of the commercial gill net regulations that were required by the sea turtle settlement as a method of reducing the fishing mortality rate and achieving sustainable harvest. The 2014 stock assessment was not approved for management. Supplement A to Amendment 1, which is intended to reduce catch from the southern flounder fishery by up to 60%, was approved by the Marine Fisheries Commission at its November 2015 meeting. Approved management measures will be implemented beginning January 1, 2016.

Research and Data Needs – Discard and discard mortality estimates for commercial pound net and recreational/commercial gig fisheries, expand age data collection from the fisheries, validate mail survey estimates of recreational gigging using dockside survey, migration patterns and rates, species composition of recreationally released flounder, fishery-independent ocean survey, expand inshore independent gill net surveys, regional stock assessment.

2015 Regulations Commercial: 14–inches total length (TL) minimum size limit in internal and ocean waters, closed season in internal waters from December 1–31; no trip limits in internal waters and a 100-lbs. trip limit in ocean waters unless the individual has a License to Land Flounder from the Atlantic Ocean. Recreational: 15–inches TL minimum size limit/6 fish creel limit for all joint and coastal waters.

Harvest Season — Commercial: January through November (closed season in December) with peak catches from September to November. Recreational: Year–round with peak catches from June through September.

Size and Age at Maturity Females: 16 inches TL/2 years; Males: 10 inches TL/1 year

Maximum Age 9 years

Juvenile Abundance Index (number of fish per tow) (Geometric mean from Juvenile Estuarine Trawl Survey) 2006-2015 – 1.0, 2015 0.6

Habits and Habitats – Southern flounder are estuarine dependent members of the left–eyed flounder family that includes summer flounder and Gulf flounder. Larvae enter inlets in winter and spring and settle on muddy bottoms in lower–salinity areas of estuaries. Juveniles are believed to generally reside in estuaries for two years prior to reaching maturity. During fall months (especially October), a large number of southern flounder migrate out of estuaries and move southward in what is believed to be the spawning migration. These fish often enter state waters of South Carolina through Central Florida. Flounder are believed to spawn in November through March, but the location of spawning is unknown. Subsequent to spawning, adult southern flounder reside in the ocean and/or move back into estuarine areas to feed. It is unknown whether fish undertaking migrations to the south return to North Carolina waters.

For more information, contact Michael S. Loeffler at Michael.Loeffler@ncdenr.gov or 252-264-3911

N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries • 3441 Arendell Street • Morehead City, NC 28557 • 252-726-7021 or 800-682-2632

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