Characterization of the Southern Flounder Gigging Fishery and Collection of Biological Data on Southern Flounder (Paralichthys lethostigma) – Year II
- Obtain catch-effort data on the Southern Flounder gigging fishery
- Characterize the fishery in terms of season, methods, gears, fishing area
- Obtain basic biological data from fish collected in the gigging fishery
- Establish a permanent list of cooperators that can be utilized for future projects
Flounder giggers work during the night using electric lights, usually powered by generators. They quietly push boats with push poles along shallow areas near banks or on mudflats where flounder are common during darkness. The flounder gigging fishery is believed to be relatively large in South Carolina, with potentially thousands of fishing trips made annually. However, because this fishery is prosecuted only during night-time hours, DNR and Marine Recreational Finfish Statistical Survey (MRFSS) observers, who make observations at boat landings during daylight hours only, rarely intercept flounder giggers. There are also observational data from DNR law enforcement officers that flounder gig harvest rates can be relatively high (approaching or meeting the 20-fish/person/day limit). This is contrary to the relatively low average catch rates of hook and line anglers (less that three fish per trip).
Because creel intercepts are rarely made of gigged fish, very little information exist on fish size which is critical for developing a stock assessment. Furthermore, it is presumed that most gigged flounder are southern flounder, but it is possible the summer and gulf flounder may be part of the catch. This work will also provide information of other species that may be gigged.
There is a perception among some anglers that flounder abundance has declined and they attribute the decline to the gigging fishery. Catch-per-effort trends in fishery independent surveys (trammel net and trawl) do not suggest a significant decline in flounder stocks, but DNR biologists believe the stock cannot be adequately assessed until the magnitude of the gigging fishery can be determined. During July 2004, a significant and unusual event occurred in the Myrtle Beach, SC area. Thousands of flounder were caught by anglers fishing from the beach and commercial fishing piers. These anomalously high catch rates were attributed to unusual hydrographical conditions (low dissolved oxygen) that appeared to herd fish toward the beach. This event casts some doubt on our perceptions and understanding of flounder abundance and life history. This proposed project will begin to provide new information that should be very useful in examining the health of the resource.
Flounder gigging guides and active flounder giggers who are participating in the legal flounder-gigging fishery will be contracted to provide information including daily catch records including size, hours fished, and location. Most activity of this fishery occurs in the northern portion of the state, and that is where most of our sampling will be concentrated. We will, however, seek to enlist fishermen in the central and southern portions of the state also. It is anticipated that at least six fishermen will be involved in this project. Fishermen will be trained as to the specific data required. Data will be collected on a monthly basis. DNR staff will observe fishing on a random basis to assure that reported data are valid. This project will be conducted in cooperation with another proposed DNR project which will include periodic creel surveys. Creel surveys will consist of visiting boat landings two or three nights per week. Creel data collected by DNR employees will also be used to validate size and catch data provided cooperatively by giggers.