Southern Flounder season likely to reveal intentional blind eye on limits

By Easton Edwards

Editor’s note: We thank Mr. Edwards for his insightful look at this controversial topic. His report has been gently edited.

EASTERN NC – The 2022 Southern Flounder season has begun. I predict most anglers will turn a blind eye to the limits set forth by the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries – specifically the daily limits of flounder catch. This has been building since passage of Amendment 3 to the Southern Flounder Management Plan, intended to curtail over-fishing and rebuild the stock.

It has been well-documented that the recreational sector in 2020 greatly over-fished its target of 152,808 pounds. However, the recreational sector disputes this, pointing to lack of dockside surveys and Marine Patrol checks to verify the numbers, which instead are taken from MRIP (Marine Recreational Information Program) surveys used to quantify recreational catch on many species.

The problem with this survey is that it is not “real time” and by the time fisheries regulators receive the numbers, actual overages have occurred. The recreational sector does not believe these numbers whatsoever, and many do not abide by the catch limits imposed from this data.

What does this leave the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries and its enforcement officers to do? The agency director sets up the season based on data from the prior year. In good faith, this would work some of the time. However, in a season where few recreational anglers believe the data (or even acknowledge a problem at all) limits are doomed to fail miserably.

I have talked to countless recreational fishermen who do not believe the data, and plan to take home what fish they want. In fact, they have been taking back fish for over a month now, and continually comment on how many smaller fish they are seeing. In this situation, any plan that is put forth will not help the resource. The recreational side will obliterate the intended quota. Overages on the recreational side will trigger a “payback” – built into Amendment 3 the following year, leaving a smaller amount of quota, or a COMPLETE CLOSURE of the season.

The 2022 recreational flounder season opened at 12:01 a.m. Sept. 1 and will close at 11:59 p.m. Sept. 30 in internal and ocean waters of North Carolina. The minimum size limit will remain at 15 inches total length, and the creel limit will be 1 fish per person per day during the open recreational season.

During all of this, the commercial fishing side will also be required to abide by numbers set forth as dictated by Amendment 3. The difference here is data comes from DAILY trip tickets, allowing the Director to keep a much closer, almost ‘real time’ eye on the numbers. As a result, the commercial season has a quicker close and smaller overages (if any) on harvest for the year. This should help eliminate a “payback” if managed correctly the following year.

Little or no payback imposed on the commercial sector is an absolute necessity as officials are expected to alter quotas to an eventual 50 percent / 50 percent split between the two user groups. This shift also prompts concerns. Will the recreational sector continuously over-fish as its allotment increases? If so, why reduce quota from a sector (commercial) that is closely controlled and monitored with ‘real time’ data, while giving greater quota to a sector (recreational) that seems to have no desire, intention, or plan to ever abide by necessary rules to rebuild the stock?

This is an issue coast-wide on many species. The recreational sector is the problem with over-fishing in many areas on various species, yet regulators do not have the answers or actual backbone to handle this sector.


The recreational sector will overfish their allotment this year. This will happen through actual collected data, or through countless trips back and forth to docks UNCHECKED! If they overfish the stock and the MRIP data comes back with a huge overage, that overage will be forced to be paid back against next year’s quota allotment. This could cause a closed season next year, which is exactly what the Coastal Conservation Association (CCA) and other groups will try to weaponize against the commercial sector, which is abiding by the cutbacks. The commercial sector will close much quicker due to real-time collected data (if managed correctly).

Bottom line is this: Most, if not all, recreational anglers will not adhere to the limits. The amount of pressure on the flounder will be as great as the last two years. Look for the number of ‘dead discards’ to be overwhelming when the data is collected and analyzed. This will probably force a closure next year and maybe further out.

This final result brought upon themselves will infuriate the recreational anglers.

And who will be to blame? The commercial fisherman – fishing and reporting daily, trying to feed a family while operating in a system that is constantly under attack. I am not a palm reader, but wait and see what happens.