Fact or fiction: gigging kills too many flounder
According to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, as well as fisheries agencies from several states on the east coast, the southern flounder population is in serious trouble. The numbers have declined so much that North Carolina currently has a ban on recreational harvest of any flounder.
While South Carolina has not taken such a drastic step, changes are likely coming to flounder regulations in the Palmetto State, as well as other states along the east coast. Change comes slow for South Carolina fish and game laws. The SCDNR, which enforces regulations, does not make any laws. They suggest regulation changes to the state lawmakers, who then vote on them whenever they are in session. It doesn’t happen overnight.
The impact of gigging is one topic that often comes up when folks discuss the decline in flounder numbers. “Stop the gigging and you’ll solve it” is often stated by rod-and-reel purists. But how true is it?
Fisheries biologists in the Carolinas say it’s not true at all. In their estimations, flounder gigging has little impact on flounder populations. And it’s mainly because very few anglers participate in gigging. They harvest far fewer overall numbers of flounder than rod-and-reel anglers, even though some individual gigging trips are more successful than regular fishing outings.
To be fair, those estimations are, well, just estimations. Unfortunately, the science of figuring out such questions are not an exact science. Much of their data comes from angler surveys. But that’s the same place most of their other data comes from too. So it stands to reason that their gigging estimates are as accurate as any other estimates.
Gigging is effective, but limited by many factors
The fisheries biologists do agree that the average flounder gigging trip produces more fish per person than a typical rod-and-reel angler catches per trip. However, far more people engage in rod-and-reel angling. On top of that, gigging is much more dependent on the weather and other factors.
“From past estimates, we believe that somewhere in the neighborhood of 15% of licensed saltwater fishermen may participate in flounder gigging in a given year. Surveys of flounder giggers have shown typically larger landings per person than are estimated for the average recreational hook and line fishing trip. However, given the limited number of available days with the proper conditions for tide, moonlight, water clarity, current, etc., it is most likely that total recreational flounder gig landings are much less than total estimated recreational hook and line flounder landings,” said Mel Bell, director of the Office of Fisheries Management with the S.C. Dept. of Natural Resources.
It’s all in the numbers
In the N.C. Dept. of Environmental Quality’s 2019 Flounder Stock Assessment, they looked at recreational flounder harvest numbers from 1989 through 2017. In 2017, the combined recreational harvest for gigging and for hook and line totaled 892,400 flounder. Of those, 24,136 were harvested by gigging, and 868,264 were caught by conventional rod and reel.
Flounder gigging is certainly an effective way to bag flounder. But giggers need specialized equipment, the waters they can gig in are limited by a number of factors, and gigging is much more dependent on the weather, winds, and tides than other forms of fishing.
All of that deters many anglers from participating in gigging. Along with that, gigging must take place at night, which keeps many other outdoorsmen from participating in it. The overall numbers just don’t add up. Gigging takes less of a toll on flounder than any other form of fishing.