Fishermen blast Fisheries over southern flounder data

By on December 22, 2019

An expert panel from the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) was met with strong pushback during a recent community meeting when dozens of commercial fishermen insisted that, contrary to the division’s findings, southern flounder are not overfished.

“I’m laughing at some of your data,” said Russ Howard during public comment, expressing the widely held view among the commercial fishermen that the DMF numbers are not accurate. “I don’t know how many nights you’ve spent out on the sound catching flounder,” he asked rhetorically.

The meeting on Dec. 17 in Manteo was the third public scoping meeting organized by the DMF, part of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality. The commission, a nine-member board appointed by the governor, ultimately has the final say in adopting any amendments to the Southern Flounder Fishery Management Plan (FMP).

On the panel representing DMF were Catherine Blum, Fishery Management Plan and Rulemaking Coordinator; Kathy Rawls, head of Fisheries Management/Protected Species; Anne Markwith, a marine biologist specializing in cobia; and Mike Loeffler, a biologist specializing in southern flounder.

The goal of the meetings is to solicit public input on potential management strategies for an upcoming amendment to the FMP known as Amendment 3. The previous two meetings were held in Morehead City on Dec. 9 and in Wilmington on Dec. 11.

A 2019 South Atlantic Southern Flounder Stock Assessment found that the species is overfished. North Carolina law mandates that FMPs “include measures to end overfishing within two years of adoption and rebuild the stock to achieve sustainable harvest within 10 years of adoption,” according to DMF’s website.

Back in August, the DMF adopted Amendment 2 of the Southern Flounder FMP, approving the closure of both recreational and commercial southern flounder seasons on Sept. 4.

There are three species of flounder found along North Carolina’s coast: summer, Gulf and southern. Some 50 percent of ocean-caught recreational flounder harvested between 2000 and 2018 were southern flounder, according to DMF’s data. Mature female southern flounder, which are considerably larger than males, are particularly overfished, according to the DMF.

Until Amendment 3 is passed, the agency is proposing a 62 percent reduction in southern flounder harvest in 2019 and a 72 percent reduction in harvest beginning in 2020.

But the majority of the 60 or so local residents, most of them commercial fishermen, who attended the Manteo meeting did not agree with DMF’s findings.

Watson Stewart grew passionate during his turn at the microphone. “There are plenty of fish in Currituck,” he said. “I fished for twenty-eight days this year and it was as good as ever.”

“I see nothing coming out of this,” added Stewart, who said he has been flounder fishing for 50 years. “Y’all are accomplishing nothing!”

Still others bemoaned the impact of the increasing bureaucratization of the fishing industry on a community that has thrived on commercial fishing for generations.

“This is the biggest joke: the Marine Fisheries Commission is ultimately going to decide what happens to us? They have never given a crap about us,” one fisherman said.

“What have you ever given back?” he asked the panelists.

Generally, the fishermen who spoke at the meeting voiced suspicions about the data and science behind the agency’s conclusions.

“If you do simple math, the stock is good,” Joe Wilson said. “According to my math, and my fifty years on the water.”

In these exchanges, the panelists reminded the public that the stock assessment was subject to rigorous peer review by scientists, and that no conclusions were drawn based on the judgement of a single individual.

“I certainly believe in the science,” Loeffler, the biologist on the panel, said simply. He said he himself fishes with his children in his hometown of Elizabeth City.

The DMF will begin drafting Amendment 3 in the new year. The document will go through numerous reviews and comments — including additional opportunities for public input — before the Marine Fisheries Commission puts it to a vote in May 2021.




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  • Sean

    We can try to fix this in the next election. (Looks like) the governors got to go. To say it a nice way

    Monday, Dec 23 @ 6:50 am
  • The Captain

    As a Recreational Fisherman, I’m confused. First the majority of “Flounder” caught Recreationally in the Oregon Inlet area are Summer Flounder aka Fluke, NOT Southern Flounder. If Southern Flounder are in trouble why should the Marine Fisheries use a Generic Closure for all Flounder. The big question is “can the majority of the Fisherman identify the difference in the species”? That is the Big Question.

    Monday, Dec 23 @ 7:08 am
  • Seal

    Flounder are not over fished ???
    Everything that swims in our waters is “Over Fished” !!!!!!
    And despite that never ending Bull that my Great Great Great Grand Pappy fished these waters does not make them yours !!!! And no matter how far you stick your head into that hole of denial ………… The DATA and thousands of hours of research isnt there just too go after and get you….its there to protect and hopefully save this living resource from those that value a dollar over all else !!!! If anything make it unlawful for out of state trawlers and the like in our waters for a start !!!
    And before you start with that “Tree Hugger” Bull…………… I too am a Waterman and over fifty years of fishing and crabbing these waters I have seen this fishery reduced to a fraction of what it used to be !!!!!! Enough is Enough !!!!!!!

    Monday, Dec 23 @ 9:43 am
  • Seal

    @ The Captain
    Your right “The Captain”…….over the years 90% of the tourist that fish here that I’ve met only know that its a fish with both eyes on the same side of its head !!!
    But my pet peeve is seeing out of state trawlers in our waters, and I dont mean those 20 to 30 footers I’m talking 65 plus footers trawling side by side !!!!
    I seen five at once one time !!!

    Monday, Dec 23 @ 1:58 pm
  • Chris

    NEVER EVER UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES BELIEVE COMMERCIAL FISHERMAN . They’re the ones directly responsible for the devastation of our flounder fisheries and it is dead and has been for at least the last 8 years .

    Constant netting in inshore fish nursery areas has literally wiped out the flounder , NOBODY’s catching these days anybody who says flounder fishing is good is a 100% confirmed liar it’s not and hasn’t been for close to a decade.

    Remember close to 15 years ago two marine fisheries biologists said the flounder fisheries was in bad shape .

    What did the commercial’s do , they said baloney and did absolutely NOTHING about it and still haven’t done a damn thing about it 15 years later and it’s gotten considerably worse every single year .

    The recreational people are not the problem , i have talked to hundred’s of recreational fisherman over the last 10 years and all say they don’t even bother flounder fishing anymore because they’re virtually non existent .

    This state has been the laughingstock of every other coastal state in the country for it’s non stop abuse of our fisheries .

    The only way to have a chance at having flounder recover is getting the damn nets OUT OF THE INSHORE WATERS !!! How long is this abomination going to be allowed , EVERY OTHER STATE HAS BANNED THEM MANY MANY YEARS AGO and every commercial fisherman is doing just fine .

    I have watched gill netters completely blocking off the openings of creeks with their kill nets year in year out and there is NEVER EVER any enforcement . They set the nets early evening and don’t come back until the early morning hours when it’s still dark and by first light no evidence of anything .

    I’m sick of seeing dead turtles and other sea life scattered along the intracoastal waterways shorelines , gill net dump sites are everywhere it must end now !!!!!!!!!!!!!! ENOUGH

    Gigging is also a MAJOR PROBLEM , they’re everywhere and they stick anything , decades of sticking 3 to 4 times over the limit of flounder has had a devastating impact as well .

    These people are just likethe gill netters working at night and being off the water by first light .

    This state is an absolute disgrace and gill netters and giggers should be jailed for what they have done to it.

    Monday, Dec 23 @ 8:03 pm
  • Seal

    Chris you hit the nail on the HEAD !!!!!!
    The True rape of our waters is the commercial fishing of our NURSERIES !!!!!
    N.C is the only state on the East coast and the Gulf that allows this !!!
    You would think this would be just plain common sense……..
    And to let those commercially fish in our home waters from out of state on an industrial basis !!!

    Tuesday, Dec 24 @ 6:17 am
  • Bob hall

    Let’s wake up people, where are the herring that used to swim our in our waters? Where are the gray trout that used to swim in our waters? Where are the croakers, spot, the shad, where have all our oysters gone? Our “ working watermen” have destroyed all of these. Talk about never putting anything back. What has a commercial fisherman ever put back, a dead fish too small to sell or a wrong species. Has anyone ever pulled a shrimp net, how much wasted small fish do we have to dump overboard before we realize something wrong with this. Seven to eight pounds per one pound of shrimp, if we have a plan in place to totally destroy our sounds and fisheries, this would be number 1 on the list. How can a species of fish have any sound management when you are allowed to use gill nets to harvest them. A gill net kills, not just what they fish for, but other species, under size fish and over the limit. Get shrimp trawlers out of our sounds, get rid of gill nets, and stop giving a permit for every pound net to be approved. Commercial fisherman or “working watermen” you are destroying your own future. Learn to catch less, sell for more, you make the money not the fish houses. Might just take a look at what other states have done. Don’t wait until it’s too late.

    Tuesday, Dec 24 @ 7:43 am
  • MikeM

    The fisheries that are protected and enforced are the ones that will flourish. The ‘free-for-all’ fisheries will be the ones that will be gone, and so will the ‘fishing’ around them will be devastated. Study after study shows that unmanned and over fished or stressed fisheries will collapse. So, which will it be? The rational answer is very clear.

    Saturday, Dec 28 @ 4:27 pm
  • Spoonyrae

    The true enemy of the fisheries is the large commercial operations that operate offshore for multinational companies, they need us to keep blaming the family fisherman.

    Sunday, Dec 29 @ 5:56 pm