Fishing

Flounder restrictions will impact local economy, fish availability

Fresh flounder at the Fish House on Ocracoke may be in short supply this fall and next year if proposed commercial fishing restrictions are approved tomorrow in Raleigh. Photo: C. Leinbach

By Connie Leinbach

Local flounder may be in short supply this fall if plans to drastically reduce the harvest take effect after the Marine Fisheries Commission meetings today and tomorrow in Raleigh.

The commission voted in June to accept the recommendations of the Division of Marine Fisheries to reduce the Southern flounder harvest for both commercial and recreational fishing by 62 percent starting this fall and a 72 percent reduction in harvest beginning in 2020.

Commercial flounder fishing goes into high gear in the fall and these recommendations would impact the local commercial and recreational fishermen—and the flounder supply to restaurants and the public.

The Marine Fisheries Commission is scheduled to vote on all of these measures, which is Draft Amendment 2 to the Southern Flounder Fishery Management Plan, and Amendment 2, regarding the blue crab fishery, tomorrow (Aug. 23) at 10 a.m.

If approved, these measures would be effective immediately and stay in place until adoption and implementation of Amendment 3 to the Southern Flounder Fishery Management Plan, scheduled for completion in 2021.

If that happens, flounder sales—both retail and wholesale—will be impacted and it will wreak havoc with the local fishing businesses and the Ocracoke economy, local fishermen say.

They understand the need for conservation, said Hardy Plyler, manager of the Fish House.

“The Fish House is not against doing some things to ensure the health of the flounder stock, but we’re not willing to go out of business,” he said in an interview.

Implementing this level of reduction this year will not allow any transition time for fishermen who harvest flounder time to evolve their fishing businesses, he said.

Since employment in the winter is almost nonexistent, fall fishing is critical to families to pay taxes, buy food, etc., he said in one of two letters to the commission.

Pound net fishing supplies Ocracoke with flounder, sheepshead and black drum.

“By forcing pound nets out of the water (in mid-October rather than the first week in November) access to fall species will be virtually nonexistent and will have a devastating impact on Ocracoke Seafood Company’s retail and wholesale businesses, Ocracoke’s tourism revenue and Hyde County’s sales tax revenues,” Plyler said in the letter.

Among the compromises suggested was a less drastic reduction: 31 percent this year and a 52 percent reduction in 2020.

Details of the amendment and the meeting materials can be found online here and a commentary here