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I got an e-mail this week from Michael Altoonian and the fellas at the West Tanglewood Fishing Club.
I love speaking to the clubs and answering their questions because interested anglers like these help our resource go from a causal sport to one that fights today’s negative attitudes with what the best thing fishing gives people—hope.
I don’t have time here to answer all of their questions, but I will tackle one and some people aren’t going to like my answer.
I don’t mind controversy, so I am ready for the e-mails and letters. However, I don’t give the skin off a pinfish what people say about this stuff either.
Fishing has become so under siege from those who would change it from a sport to government’s pawn I love to speak my piece. Plus, I have a column and they don’t.
The Tanglewood guys wanted to know what I thought about the current limits on flounder.
Right now there is a 14-inch, eight-fish limit on flounder caught in inshore waters and a 14 -inch, eight-fish limit for those in ocean waters (such as ocean piers or boats out in the sea).
Commercial fishermen operate under quotas managed by the pound, which are monitored and changed often, sometimes month-to-month.
Those gigging for flounder with spears at night have to use recreational limits now, which they didn’t always have to follow.
It is important to note that there are two big species of flounder here. The internal guys we know so well in Brunswick—the river and Intracoastal flounder—are the southern flounder that get caught in the backwaters and gigged. These guys are a warm-water fish at the north of where they like to go and are found all the way down into Texas.
Summer flounder are a colder-climate fish and range from the Carolinas all the way up to Yankee lands where northerners pull them in on rocky beaches, sometimes as far north as Maine, and call them fluke.
It is the summer flounder that has created the biggest problems. The population is managed on the Atlantic Coast by the National Marine Fisheries Service and a complex group of other government departments and constitutions so complex that 24's Jack Bauer wouldn't know where to start kidnapping executives. They have mandated the ocean’s 14 -inch rule. If stocks don’t show what the feds call reasonable improvement, there is even dark suspicion that someday the ocean flounder fishing might be suspended or closed for a time.
Southern flounder, our locally caught inshore species, are another story. It is true I feel they are an over-fished species. If you go during the season you will see boats lined up in the channels and creeks drifting for them stern to stern. Net, and especially late night giggers, take their toll. I have nothing against the time honored tradition of gigging for flounder, but I fish a lot at night and I tell you that sometimes it looks like Christmas with all of the lights out there in the shallows spearing the flatfish.
Personally, I question whether the limits on our local southern flounder works as well as they are supposed to. The idea is to allow the bigger fish, all females, to be released in order to have time to spawn. But take this scenario into account.
For years, many fishermen kept smaller flounder. Flounder 12 and 13 inches were used for food. I have heard many “sportsmen” scoff at the idea that you can’t get any meat off such a small flounder. If you can’t find a meal in a 13-inch flounder, son, you didn’t grow up in these parts.
If we lowered the creel limit a little, say to 5 or 6 fish, but made the size 12 or 13 inches for local waters, many people would keep these fish.
Most flounder are caught on live bait, and a great many of the small throwbacks die anyway. We all know that there are many smaller flounder in local waters now. An angler who stops at his limit is not going to stay and keep the big sows. They are going to live to spawn, while many of the throwback small fish would just die.
Of course, the only big flaw in the plan is the angler who keeps the small fish but seeks to “cull” his catch by continuing to fish and replacing the dead small one if he catches a bigger fish. There is no way to stop these degenerates except to issue a stiff fine if they are caught.
But there are ways around every rule, and most fishermen follow the law. It is the mortality of flounder caught on live bait that drives my opinion on this issue. I just don’t know if these big size limits work as well as they do on fish like red drum, which recover better from being hooked. Flounder often swallow their bait, since it is so often live minnows.
I have heard a few guides, one notably in South Carolina, who like this plan, but most people just want higher size limits. Right now, I can barely catch a flounder in the waterway I can keep.
I also want to address giggers. How the heck do you eyeball a flounder that is 13 inches, stab him, measure him and say, “Uh oh fella, looks like I was a bit off. Have a nice life with this hole through your body.” I like giggers fine, but giving them this 14-inch rule is hard on them too.
Not to mention commercial fishermen continue to take their share, and just how much of all this is on them and how much on recs is hard to say.
Throwing back small flounder that have been trapped in nets doesn’t seem to be so healthy for the little guys.
I say let us all follow stricter creel limits (all of us—recs, giggers, comms) and relax the size limits. Heck, I don’t know about you, but I haven’t seen an eight-flounder limit in three years anyway.
If the danger is here, reduce the catch and protect the females. Don’t make it so they are the ones we are catching.
Jeffrey Weeks is a fishing columnist for the Beacon. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.