Friday, March 13–Limited Flounder Season OK’d

OCEAN CITY – Despite complaints of severely flawed catch data, state officials this week moved forward with new regulations for summer flounder in 2009 including an increase in the minimum size for keepers and the first season closure of the fishery in several years in an effort to bring the state’s catch totals within the prescribed target number.

According to state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) officials, the recreational summer flounder fishery in Maryland, which is almost exclusively in the coastal areas along the Atlantic including Ocean City, surpassed its allowable harvest target by around 32 percent last year, necessitating a change in the regulations this year. This week, DNR officials announced a two-pronged approach to bringing the flounder harvest within the target range including a change in the minimum size for keepers from 17 inches to 18 inches with a creel limit of three keepers per angler per day, although the latter is likely a moot point with the new minimum size at 18 inches.

In addition, the changes announced this week include a summer flounder season in Maryland from April 15 to Sept. 13, effectively shutting down the fishery early and eliminating the fall season. While increasing the minimum keeper size is reason for concern for most area anglers and fishing boat captains, the closure of the fall flounder season is causing the most heartburn.

“A lot of people are going to get hit hard by this,” said “Bay Bee” Captain Bob Gowar. “The poor guys trying to make a living- they’re just getting torn apart by this.”

According to the federal Marine Recreational Fisheries Statistics Survey (MRFSS), which tracks seasonal catch totals for various species, Maryland anglers reeled in roughly 90,000 keeper flounder last year, far exceeding the target total of 61,000 thousand for the state. The 32-percent difference necessitated the change in regulations for the upcoming season, but most anglers and captains agree the MRFSS numbers cannot be accurate and some simple math appears to bear that out.

For example, even if the flounder season was open every day of the year last year, anglers would have to catch 246 keepers per day to hit the reported 90,000 mark. If it was open for the roughly 150 days from April to September announced this week, anglers would have to catch 600 keepers per day to reach the MRFSS total. With most of the flounder effort concentrated around the roughly four months of summer, anglers across Maryland were catching 750 keepers last year if the 90,000 MRFSS numbers are accurate.

“There’s no way we collectively caught all the flounder they claim we caught,” said Gowar. “We didn’t catch a tenth of what they said was caught last year. It wasn’t 90,000. It was probably more like 8,000 if that, and that’s everybody in the state.”

With some changes inevitable based on the alleged statistics, local fishermen last month voted in favor of the management option announced this week. While most preferred no changes, a majority of anglers who voted in a straw poll following a public hearing in February in Ocean Pines preferred the fall season closure, although some preferred alternatives calling for a spring closure or even a mid-season closure as has been done in the past.

“The head boat guys, I think there are only four of us, were outnumbered on the vote on the favored option,” said “Angler” Captain Chris Mizurak. “We would have preferred no closure, of course, but short of that, we would have preferred a spring closure. We really don’t get going until May anyway, but the recreational guys really wanted that spring season open.”

Mizurak said the fall closure will hurt ocean-going head boats and party boats more than the recreational anglers in the bay.

“For us, this will hurt more than it does the bay boats,” he said. “This will take a big gap out of the fishing year when we’re usually targeting flounder.”