Flounder Data Explanation Needed

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Fishermen, by their nature, are a sensitive and cynical bunch. This is usually the case whether you are a recreational or commercial type. However, the current situation involving proposed flounder restrictions is reason for concern.

There are times when fishermen cry foul unnecessarily. There are some who seem to take the proverbial “us vs. them” mentality too far when it comes to regulatory changes, feeling everyone is out to cut their lines unfairly and impact their livelihood. That’s not the case in many instances, but from we can tell they have a case regarding data being used to come to conclusions regarding the flounder count in the coastal bays watershed.

At last week’s meeting, the Department of Natural Resources proposed ways to reduce the flounder catch from the 90,000 keepers caught last year to the target total of 61,000 for the state. DNR wants to increase the minimum size of keeper flounder to 18 inches, from 17 inches, with a creel limit of three and wants to institute a closure, proposing a start to the flounder season in June or a two-week summer closure, as has been instituted before, or eliminating the fall season. There does not seem to be too many issues with increasing the size limit, and fishermen in attendance at last week’s meeting said they could live with a autumn closure, albeit they appeared reluctant to any kind of shutdown in flat belly fishing.

The fishermen who spoke last week seem to understand the importance of conservation and maintaining a healthy flounder stock. These guys make their living off the water, and they realize it’s important for their future livelihoods to be aware of the habitat and its health. However, it’s this 90,000 figure that’s causing the heartburn among fishermen. That’s the number of flounder the federal Marine Recreational Fisheries Statistics Survey reports were killed last year. If that number is accurate, it’s about 32 percent higher than it should be, officials say. That’s why DNR is suggesting the changes.

The problem is the numbers appear to be outlandish, if you believe the local fishermen as we do. “From bad data you get bad management,” said charter boat captain Monty Hawkins. “The data on the recreational catch of flounder in Maryland cannot withstand scrutiny, not even a brush of it. There needs to be a plausibility test of the data before it is used to deny fish.” Using the 90,000 figure, assuming a five-month season from mid-April to mid-September, or 150 days, that’s 600 keepers per day. That’s just not happening.

There is a simple way to combat these claims the data is false. The federal agency in charge of counting the fish needs to come clean and release all its data. It needs to show exactly how it came up with these figures to prove changes are needed. Until it does that, conspiracy theories will abound and they will carry merit.

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