The North Carolina Marine Fisheries Commission last week voted to delay by two years gradually evening out southern flounder allocations, which are currently 70% commercial and 30% recreational, under Amendment 3 to the Southern Flounder Fishery Management Plan.
The commission held its quarterly business meeting Feb. 23-25 at the Doubletree in New Bern. A recording of the meeting and related information are on the Marine Fisheries Commission webpage.
Aside from the delay, the commission tentatively adopted the Division of Marine Fisheries’ recommendations as its preferred management options for the draft amendment, division officials said Friday and again Monday in a follow-up announcement with some clarifications.
The flounder plan amendment will be reviewed by the secretary of the Department of Environmental Quality and legislative committees before going back to the commission for final approval during the May quarterly meeting.
The commission in March 2021 decided to gradually equalize allocations between commercial and recreational fisheries in 2023. The 70% commercial and 30% recreational allocation is similar to the harvest landed by each sector in 2017. Amendment 3 draft management measures are based on that stock assessment.
The commission last week voted to delay by two years the transition to a 50/50 commercial/recreational allocation, which means that allocations will remain at 70% commercial and 30% recreational in 2023 and in 2024. In 2025, allocations will adjust to 60% commercial and 40% recreational and to 50% commercial and 50% recreational in 2026. Officials said the delay was proposed to allow time for the fishery to stabilize before additional management changes are implemented.
Additional Division of Marine Fisheries amendment 3 recommendations tentatively approved by the commission include the following:
- Annual harvest quotas for the commercial fisheries divided by gear categories and by harvest areas.
- Commercial trip limits.
- A one-fish per person per day recreational flounder bag limit.
- An Aug. 16 to Sept 30 recreational flounder season window, which may be shortened depending on available quota.
- A March 1 to April 15 recreational Gulf and summer flounder season for hook-and-line in the ocean that will not begin until at least 2023.
- Prohibited harvest of flounder with a Recreational Commercial Gear License.
- An adaptive management framework with accountability measures to implement paybacks if the total allowable landings is exceeded
- Maintaining the current commercial gear requirements, including limitations on the use of large-mesh gill nets outside of the commercial flounder season.
The division’s recommendations did not include the option to phase out gill nets, and it was not selected as a preferred management option by the commission.
The commission adopted a resolution that a moratorium may be considered if there are continued overages in the allowable catch of flounder in the commercial and recreational fisheries. Both sectors overshot their allowable catch in 2021.
The Division of Marine Fisheries provided the following list of other business, in which the commission:
- Gave final approval of the Shrimp Fishery Management Plan Amendment 2.
- Sent the draft Estuarine Striped Bass Fishery Management Plan Amendment 2 for review by the public and advisory committees; however, the commission deleted proposed options to allow the limited use of gill nets in the Neuse and Pamlico rivers, upstream of the ferry travel lines during shad season. The public comment period be in March.
- Approved a management option and associated proposed rule language to begin the process of amending the Mutilated Finfish Rule.
- Gave final approval for the adoption, readoption, repeal and amendment of a slate of rules under a state mandated periodic review.