Is the flounder fishery our latest conservation success story?

Everett Johnson
In this issue we included a Q&A article where we sought feedback on a list of topics dealing with southern flounder. We asked our guide-writer staff for their take on their local flounder fishery. I would also like to encourage readers to contribute their personal take the same as I did the writers. Email would be great or you can send it snail mail. Do not hesitate to pick up the telephone if you would prefer to communicate verbally. You might get lucky and catch me at the office but don't be surprised if I'm fishing or hunting when you call. I will return the call promise.

Sifting through the responses from the guides, it stood out that the further down the coast you travel, the greater the perception that a flounder recovery is underway. I could speculate that this is due to the fact that the upper coast has always held more flounder in general than the middle and lower coast and so the increase, if indeed any has been accomplished, is not yet very noticeable. I could also speculate that gig fishing is more prevalent on the middle and lower coast, and since the new flounder regs enacted in September 2009 outlawed recreational and also commercial gigging during November (traditionally the month of greatest harvest) and limited rod and reel fishermen to only two fish per day, a great number of fish have been reserved from harvest during these past two Novembers and they are currently showing in the year round rod and reel fishery.

One thing is certain if indeed we have been conserving our flounder resource to a greater degree than ever before it is too early to see flounder spawned during the era of the new regs reaching legal size. This will not happen until sometime next year according to TPWD's age/growth charts.

Some of our guides commented that they have witnessed an increase in the size of the flounder landed on their charters, and this helps me believe the single greatest influence currently impacting the fishery is the fact that we have harvested fewer fish on average since September 2009 than we were taking prior. Simply put, a greater number of fish are evading harvest and they are growing larger.

So this leads me to speculate that we're only seeing the tip of the iceberg. The Coastal Fisheries biologists told us it would take a complete life cycle (six years) to realize the full benefit of the new regs, but that 80% of the benefit would register in three. From what I've seen thus far, I'm betting 2012 will go down as a record year for flat fish!

And naturally, all this flounder conservation stuff leads to me consider other species. I know lots of folks are satisfied with the status of the spotted seatrout fishery. Still, it is fun to dream about catching a bunch of five pounders and maybe a seven or eight every time we go fishing. Never underestimate the power of conservation.

Merry Christmas!