The following is an Op Ed I submitted to the Charleston, SC Post and Courier and published on March 10, 2021. As founder of the Release Over 20″ Initiative, it will probably come as no surprise that it is in favor of an upper slot for flounder. In general, I’m against more regulations, however, from feedback I’ve received toward adding flounder to RO20, I believe that a law is required to make a significant enough change for managing flounder stocks in a timely manner. Would appreciate any comments pro or con (& constructive)
Last Fall, the SC Dept. of Natural Resources held a series of presentations outlining a steady decline in our population of flounder in South Carolina. This data resulted from statistical sampling of fish from electrofishing and trammel net surveys along our coast. There is no question there is a serious problem.
Should we be surprised? Not at all.
Male flounder are small, they reach a maximum of about 13.5” in length during their lifetime. Therefore, all flounder of “keeper” size, currently 15”, are female. We are removing the breeding females from the population. We must protect the females.
Angling pressure on all species of fish is increasing exponentially. Population along our coast is exploding. The increase in traffic on our roads is mirrored on our waterways. New anglers can tune in to Instagram, YouTube and a multitude of podcasts to learn how, where, and when to target fish with maximum efficiency. This knowledge available at our fingertips used to take a lifetime to learn. In addition, new fish-finding technology allows us to literally run down a creek and locate fish. The newest technology allows us to watch individual fish swim around. These all act as multipliers to pressure on our fishery.
It’s obvious to me that the simplest solution to maintaining a sustainable fishery is to implement slot limits for all gamefish. In most if not all species of fish, the females are the large “trophy” fish. Once they reach a certain size, let them live the rest of their lives as brood stock. Benefits include plenty of fish to catch thanks to healthy spawns, and a large population of trophy fish to catch (and released to be caught again).
Upper slots work. We need to look no further than red drum. We have a slot limit of 15-23” and an abundance of “bull reds” to catch. South Carolina has one of the best redfish fisheries in the country as a result. When the notion of an upper slot was introduced for redfish, there was outrage. However, the notion of putting the big ones back is now second nature.
With encouragement and support of CCA North Carolina, I founded the Release Over 20” Initiative last June. The purpose of this initiative is to encourage anglers nationwide to make their own personal limits more restrictive than the law allows and reward them for doing so. My goal is for anglers to measure their success not by how many large fish they caught and kept, but how many they caught and released. We’re trying to make catch and release “cool”. Since its founding 8 months ago, the initiative has grown by about 20% each month and has support from Texas to Maryland. Clearly, there is widespread, and growing, support for upper slots among anglers. Our ultimate goal is to change angler mindsets to understand the importance of releasing big fish so that it becomes automatic. A fish is too valuable to be caught only once.
Our state legislature is currently debating new flounder regulations. For the reasons stated above, its important that we make changes that will ensure the females of the species are protected. Currently, populations of flounder are low. The current creel limit for flounder is 10 per person per day. In my experience and in informal polls of professional guides, the average flounder caught per person per day is two or less. For a hook and line angler to catch and keep a limit of flounder is unheard of. Therefore, reducing the creel limit by 50% for example, to 5 per person, will not equate to a 50% reduction in fish retained. It will have almost no effect.
It makes far more sense to keep things simple by adding an upper slot for flounder. A suggested upper limit is 20”. A 20” flounder is 4.5 years old and has several more productive years ahead in which to spawn. After a short period of time, populations will increase and once we’ve gotten past the initial pushback, letting the big ones go will be the norm and hopefully our grandkids will have more fish to catch than we do.
The time for a slot limit for flounder is now.