Gov. Mark Sanford signed a bill into law on March 31 that cut flounder recreational limits in half and limited the types of lights used for gigging for the Pawely's Island and Murrells Inlet area effectively immediately. The area affected by the change is from Pawley's Inlet (on the south end of Pawley's Island) to the northern terminus of Main Creek at Garden City Beach.

The daily limit is now 10 flounder per day per person, a decrease for the former 20 fish per person per day. The boat limit in the affected area was lowered to 20 flounder per boat per day from 40 flounder per boat per day. Any flounder included in the creel must be at least 14 inches in length.

These new flounder regulations are in effect until June 30, 2014.

Sen. Raymond Cleary III (R-Murrells Inlet) introduced the bill. This area is known for its flounder fishery, and there has been ongoing concern that anglers were not seeing an abundance of flounder over the past few years.

"Legislators asked (the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources) for input on these flounder regulations changes, and we gave them these numbers based on what we would recommend for the entire coast of South Carolina," SCDNR biologist Julia Byrd said.

The recommendations derived from SCDNR creel surveys, which have been tweaked to provide the best data possible about the state's flounder populations.

"SCDNR has conducted some surveys over the past two years specifically on flounder," Byrd said. "It used to be that our recreational angler surveys were conducted on the water and during the daytime. We have now switched to boat ramp surveys at night when gigging anglers are returning from trips, and nighttime aerial surveys have been conducted, too. We also did surveys through the mail in that area regarding flounder."

Those surveys determined that gigging make up a significant portion of the flounder harvest all along the coast.

Thus the new flounder regulations also include prohibiting the use of artificial illumination by generators in the affected area. Lights powered by your boat battery are still OK.

"From a recreational standpoint, I see no issues with these new limitations, and I welcome the changes, as it will protect our fishery," said CCA Waccamaw Chapter President Chris Hawley. "The main problem with the flounder population is gigging, and the lack of consequences for those who abuse the sport of gigging and brag that they put 100 plus fish in the box.

"I'd like to see more patrols from the Department of Natural Resources to enforce these new flounder regulations.

That support was echoed by South Carolina Wildlife Federation Chairman of the Board Clinch Heyward, who lives on Pawley's Island.

"I am not an expert, but as a resident of the Pawley's area and a recreational fisherman, I am a big supporter of DNR's management of our inshore fisheries," Heyward said. "I believe that their suggestions are based upon good observations and research.

"The new flounder limit still allows for a nice string of fish to be taken home for personal consumption, and ongoing restraint on the part of all sportsmen is a good ethic, both now and for the future."