Slot limits: A founder fishing dilemma – Delmarva Daily Times

“Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please.”

Mark Twain

Then came winter. The time of year that tries the souls of local anglers not lucky enough to be jetting off to sunnier climes. Fortunately there is plenty to keep us going in trying to keep abreast of the potential changes to the local flounder fishing scene.

That there are less flounder than there used to be isn’t even a matter for debate for most seasoned anglers. If you have fished around here any length of time you have certainly seen better flounder fishing over a much wider area than we currently have, nice fish falling to jigs on ocean reefs notwithstanding. Sure, there have been some big fish caught. And, in some folks’ minds, that’s part of the problem.

“All of those big fish are females,” said Capt. Rick Yakimowicz. “It can’t be a good thing,”

There is no doubt that the majority of the legal fish taken by anglers each season are females. Certainly to the “man on the street” that would certainly seem to have something to do with the poor recruitment (baby flounder coming into the system) over the past few years. So, too, could the fact that offshore winter spawning grounds of the summer flounder have been located and fished by the commercial fishing fleet. And perhaps it really is that much of a common sense answer — stop catching them when they are spawning, and stop keeping all female fish.

But as with most things, it probably isn’t that easy. For one thing, it’s hard to catch a flounder when they are not close to spawning season.

For fluke, explained DNREC fisheries biologist Richard Wong, “nearly all of the harvest will occur either before or during the spawning season. If you took all the harvest that occurs during the spawning season and moved it up into the summer, it wouldn’t conserve any spawners or yield more eggs. There’s no difference between a fish removed in July or in December in terms of its impact on egg production.”

Many flounder anglers point to a slot season, where anglers might keep a couple smaller (and potentially, male, flounder) along with one large fish per trip. While that might be a way to protect some female flounder, Wong points out that a slot limit is not without its shortcomings.

“There are both positives and shortfalls with slot limits,” said Wong. “Larger mature females do produce more eggs. However, harvesting too many smaller females is very risky to the population. Remember, small females must survive to become large females.

“With slot limits, and targeting smaller fish in general, it’s much more difficult to stay within our quota, since small fish are available to a much wider segment of the angling public. Better availability is good yes, but given how many anglers are out there, we would require a small slot, or small bag or both. Ultimately, targeting smaller fish will lead to a lot of discarded fish.

“In my analyses over the years, slot limits lead to much higher numbers of fish removed from the population, more regulatory discarding, and really don’t provide much conservation benefit.  The positive is that harvestable fish would be much more available to shore-based anglers. Most of our recreational landings now come from ocean reef areas. These anglers would not waste a trip out to the ocean to land a couple small fish.  There’re lots of tradeoffs if we’re going to entertain slot limits.”

There is no question that there are lots of changes on tap for this coming spring.

Comments, questions or reports to captjackrodgers@comcast.net

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