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Legislation could lead to larger flounder population

Live Great Outdoors
Members of Coastal Carolina University’s Saltwater Anglers Club show off a king mackerel caught in 2016 during the Fall Brawl King Mackerel Tournament at Ocean Isle Fishing Center. The club is hosting a fund-raising seminar on Feb. 18 on the CCU campus. Submitted photo

Proposed legislation could lead to larger flounder population in S.C. waters

By Gregg Holshouser
For The Sun News

A bump up in the size limit could be on the horizon for South Carolina’s population of flounder, and nowhere on the Palmetto State coast is flounder fishing more popular than along the Grand Strand from Georgetown to Little River.
The current minimum size limit for flounder is 14 inches, and proposed legislation calls for a 1-inch increase to 15 inches.
South Carolina House of Representatives Bill H 3665, which proposes the increase in size limit, was introduced and first read on Feb. 2 and was referred to the Agriculture, Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs Committee.
In recent years, flounder in local estuaries have received unprecedented pressure from hook-and-line anglers and giggers as the coastal population has exploded.
Long-term trammel net sampling by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources in eight major estuaries along the coast, including Georgetown County’s Winyah Bay, has revealed a steady decline in the southern flounder population since 1994. Also, according to the agency, reported charter boat catch rates have declined over the same time frame.
According to Mel Bell, Director of S.C. DNR’s Office of Fisheries Management, female flounder first mature at 14 inches and begin substantially contributing to the spawn at 15 inches.
Raising the minimum size limit to 15 inches is designed to increase the number of females that successfully migrate into the ocean to spawn in late fall and winter.
“The benefit of going to 15 is allowing the females another year to mature and give them more spawning capacity,” said Bell. “Excluding the 14-inch fish, we would be reducing the (recreational) catch by 29 percent, and that should be beneficial.”
With legislation in process to increase the minimum size, some anglers question whether the current daily bag limits of 15 per person and 30 per boat should be lowered.
Bell notes that according to Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP) data, the average recreational angler in South Carolina catches two flounder per trip.
“The problem with playing with the bag (limit) is, looking at the MRIP data, the average person only catches maybe two,” said Bell. “For an impactful bag limit change to help, you’d have to drop the bag significantly. You ‘d have to go lower than anybody is willing to go.”
Rep. Lee Hewitt, R-Georgetown, a member of the house’s Agriculture, Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs Committee, co-signed the legislation.
Hewitt is a longtime area resident and sees the need to enhance the flounder population.
“I grew up on (Murrells Inlet), I’ve been out there since I was 10 years old, fishing, gigging and crabbing,” said Hewitt.
“(With the 14-inch minimum size limit) we’re taking fish out of the water without them having a chance to reproduce. We’re just trying to give them a chance to reproduce and produce more fish so we have more fish to catch.”
Hewitt has found the increase looks to have solid support in the House of Representatives.
“I’ve personally reached out to every House member who represents the coast seeking their support for the bill and the results have been positive,” said Hewitt.
Flounder are well-known as a meat fish, which means they make fine table fare. Bell points to this aspect of the flatfish that has contributed to the declining population.
“Over 80 percent of (red drum) are released, and some trout are released,” said Bell. “If a flounder is of legal size, it’s going into the cooler and going home. That’s one of the problems they have, they’re too popular and they’re so good to eat.”
Red Drum Report
According to a news release from the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, the 2017 Red Drum Stock Assessment and Peer Review Report indicate overfishing is not occurring for red drum in either the northern or southern stocks.
The northern stock includes fish from North Carolina to New Jersey, while the southern stock includes fish from South Carolina to Florida.
The ASMFC accepted the stock assessment and report for management use, but no management action was taken since overfishing is not occurring.
CCU Seminar
Coastal Carolina University’s Saltwater Angler Club is staging its 8th annual Spring Fundraising Seminar on February 18 at Brittain Hall on the CCU campus in Conway.
The event features five 50-minute seminars, each with a 10-minute break.
“The seminar is a good way to give back to the community and provides fundraising for the club as well,” said Club President James Coleman. “It teaches people things they may not know about fishing. It helps allow us to go on trips and that’s one of our main goals in the club is to get Coastal students out fishing.”
Tickets are $15 for the public, and $10 for any students. Doors open at 9:30 a.m. with the first seminar beginning at 10 a.m. Breakfast and lunch will be served.
Seminar details follow:
▪ King Mackerel Fishing, Capt. Jodie Gay of Bluewater Candy.
▪ Offshore Bottom Fishing, Capt. Keith Logan of North Myrtle Beach Fishing Charters.
▪ Trout, Drum, Flounder Fishing, Capt. Patrick Kelly of Captain Smiley Fishing Charters.
▪ Offshore Trolling, Capt. Shawn Thomas of Underdog.
▪ GPS Systems, Capt. David Cutler of Low Country Fishing Charters.
Brittain Hall is located at 23 Chanticleer Drive, Conway, SC, 29526. For more information, contact Coleman at jtcoleman@g.coastal.edu.