Flounder limit reduced to four because of overfishing

Two consecutive years of falling flounder numbers has lead to a reduction in flounder limits for N.C. anglers.

Officials say failure to implement the new restrictions could lead to catastrophe.

A major reduction is coming to the recreational flounder bag limit in North Carolina. Starting March 1, anglers may only take four fish per person, per day, down from six, because federal fisheries managers decided that summer flounder are being overfished.

The Atlantic States Fisheries Management Council cited two consecutive years of falling flounder numbers in dictating the change to states along the Atlantic coast. Summer flounder are one of two main flounder subspecies that live in North Carolina waters; they are found mostly in high-salinity areas such as the ocean. Southern flounder, also overfished, are more often found in sounds, bays, creeks and coastal rivers.

North Carolina manages both subspecies with the same creel and size limits; the minimum size will remain at 15 inches.

“The stock is experiencing overfishing and has been for a couple of years,” said Chris Batsavage of the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries. “Harvest reductions were required to try to end it, and with that were a set of management measures that the states from Massachusetts to North Carolina had to implement in order to be in compliance with the ASFC management.”

The Council approved the roughly 33-percent decrease in August 2016. The commercial limit has already been lowered by 30 percent, putting the 2017 North Carolina commercial quota at 1.6 million pounds.

Both size and creel limits, even the flounder season itself, would have changed had overfishing been allowed to continue. Default management measures would have been triggered had the state failed to comply with the bag reduction: two fish per person, per day; a 20-inch minimum size limit; and a July 1-Aug. 31 fishing season.