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** Archived Article - please check for current information. **

August 19, 2015DNR partners for increased monitoring of South Carolina flounder

A group of flatfish easily recognized by their characteristic shape, flounder rank among the top three fish pursued by South Carolina's recreational saltwater anglers. Its popularity as table fare has made flounder an important fish recreationally, commercially, and even culturally, making the health of the fishery a high priority for the SC Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

In recent years, some commercial and recreational fishermen have voiced concerns to DNR officials about the status of South Carolina's flounder populations. As a result, in addition to routine monitoring efforts, DNR biologists are undertaking a concerted effort to better track the movement, abundance, and population trends of flounder in South Carolina. Findings from this work will help inform long-term management strategies developed with the help of partner organizations such as the Coastal Conservation Association.

“Recreational fishermen from across the state have been reporting a noticeable change in the flounder population for several years now and many believe that an adjustment in management measures is warranted; some of the state's latest data assessments even indicate that recreational anglers are catching two flounder or less daily in parts of the state,” said Scott Whitaker, Executive Director of Coastal Conservation Association South Carolina (CCA SC). “CCA SC has been, and will continue to work very closely with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources to address this important issue.”

One component of this research effort is a study focusing on the prevalence of gigging, a popular method of catching flounder that involves the use of a single- or multi-pronged spear, or gig. Gigging typically takes place at night, when bottom-dwelling flounder are easier to spot with the aid of high-powered lights. In 2006 and 2009, when the last surveys of the gig fishery took place, giggers harvested more than half of the annual flounder catch. The new survey will help researchers determine if that proportion has changed.

“This year, for the months of June through September, we will be visiting boat landings at night in all coastal counties to interview gigging parties,” said DNR biologist Brad Floyd. “We'll be observing catch and asking anglers questions about their gigging experiences.”

Another research team has recently begun work to fit flounder with acoustic tags, small devices that transmit signals, or “pings,” to acoustic receivers in the water. These tags will allow biologists to track flounder movement throughout South Carolina's waterways, which is not well understood, as well as the natural causes and rate of death for flounder species. A high-value reward will encourage fishermen to return acoustic tags they find in flounder, which will provide information about flounder mortality due to fishing versus natural causes.

The cooperation and input of South Carolina anglers will be critical to the success of these research projects. Sharing your experiences will help researchers better understand fluctuations in flounder populations – and in the long run, ensure that future generations can continue to enjoy this prized fishery.

“Flounder is certainly one of the most popular recreational fish species in South Carolina and every effort needs to be made to manage our population wisely. Coastal Conservation Association will be working closely with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources in developing recommendations regarding flounder management next year,” said Mike Able, Chairman, CCA South Carolina Government Relations Committee.

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