By Kyle Vuille and Lindsey Hodges
South Carolina coastal fishermen will be required to catch bigger flounder in smaller quantities under a bill that is now moving to the S.C. House.
The legislation, passed Thursday by the House Agriculture, Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs Committee, concerns size limit and bag size on the saltwater fish that plies inlets and shallows of the South Carolina coast.
Backers of the measure want to make sure female flounder reach sexual maturity in order to reproduce so overfishing is not in an issue in the short or long term.
“The females, we are trying to protect with the size limit,” said Rep. Bill Hixon, R-Aiken the bill’s sponsor.
Female flounder reach sexual maturity at 14 inches in length, and the legislature wants to give these females another year to reproduce before the fish are caught and consumed.
The current size limit is 14 inches, but this bill proposes it to be 15 inches. According to a S.C. Department of Natural Resources study, increasing the size limit would result in a 29 percent reduction in catch and will boost the stock in the Atlantic.
Currently, the bag size per person is 15, but the proposal calls for reducing that to 10 fish per person. The same DNR study reports changing the bag size only has an impact of 0.01 percent.
The bag limit per boat is also proposed to change from 30 to 20 flounder.
A survey from SCDNR of the last 20 years show a decline in the southern flounder population. This correlates with the increase in tourism involving recreational fishing along the coast over the same years.
Brad Floyd, a South Carolina DNR biologist, says the agency conducts independent and dependent studies every several years relating to fishing flounder, but a lot is still unclear about population and where reproduction off shore happens exactly.
South Carolina is home to three different breeds of flounder: Southern Flounder, Summer Flounder, and Gulf Flounder. Typically, in South Carolina, southern flounder is found and caught in greater abundance than the other two. Most anglers don’t catch flounder for the sport, but for their meat as the white, firm fillets cook well in a frying pan or shallow baking dish accompanied by crab meat stuffing in the middle.
Anglers use traditional hooks and lines or employ gigs or other multi-pronged spears to hunt the fish.
Floyd did say, “Gigging is more successful, but most people are unsuccessful in both methods.”
Recreational fishing is more widespread than commercial and reaching the size limit is close to impossible.
“About a dozen people gig flounder commercially in the state,” said Floyd.
Charleston in-shore fishing guide, Zachary Litchfield, who agrees with the proposed size limit. He said in Charleston gigging for flounder is more abundant and done mostly at night because the fish comes into the shallows and the use of the high-powered lights is necessary to see through the murky waters.
“I was probably out on the water 200 days last year and only caught about two flounder,” said Litchfield.
Rep. Lee Hewitt, R-Georgetown, another sponsor, said he lives about 15 minutes from the water and goes out fishing about once a week. He says the average gigger catches about five flounder a day while a hook and line catches only about one or two on average.
Hewitt ended the meeting by extending an invitation to committee members to go fishing and have a fish fry.
The proposed bill passed in the committee 16-0 with 1 not voting.