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North Carolina bans recreational flounder fishing for the 2024 season

Annual flounder removals have consistently exceeded state quotas. During the first two flounder seasons, recreational anglers removed more than double the quota; in 2021, removals were four times the quota.
Brian Yurasits
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Annual flounder removals have consistently exceeded state quotas. During the first two flounder seasons, recreational anglers removed more than double the quota; in 2021, removals were four times the quota.

For the first time, there will be no recreational fishing season in North Carolina for the southern flounder this year.

Overfishing has reduced southern flounder numbers below what the population needs to replenish itself without fishing restrictions. State regulators started limiting recreational flounder fishing in 2019 through a quota system. That system has since evolved into a “pound for pound,” where fishing over the year’s quota shortened the following year’s season.

Last year’s season was only two weeks long. State regulators determined that there were not enough fish left in the quota after accounting for incidental catch-and-release mortality. The N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries estimates that approximately one fish for every 10 returned to the ocean perishes.

CEO of the North Carolina Wildlife Federation Tim Gestwicki says more restrictions on commercial trawling would help replenish the flounder population. Trawling in estuaries, he says, destroys habitats and imperils juvenile fish.

“The first and most effective thing we can do in North Carolina is remove the trawls from our inshore waters,” Gestwicki said.

North Carolina is the only state that allows commercial trawling in its estuaries, according to Gestwicki.

Commercial fishing accounts for the majority of flounder caught in the state, but recreational fishing is a sizable portion.

Commercial restrictions have not been announced for this year. Last year, the season began in the fall and lasted 8–24 days depending on the gear fishers use and where they fish. While recreational anglers now have a predefined flounder season, commercial fishers report their harvest daily. When the total number of flounder removed from the ocean — through incidental catch and release or harvest — nears the quota for the year, the fishery shuts down.

As for whether there will be a recreational flounder season next year, NCWF's senior marine scientist Louis Daniel says it’ll likely be a while before recreational fishers can rely on a flounder season every year.

“You might have a fishery next year, but it would be unlikely that you would have one the following year,” Daniel said.

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Zachary Turner is a climate reporter and author of the WFAE Climate News newsletter. He freelanced for radio and digital print, reporting on environmental issues in North Carolina.