North Carolina Cancels Flounder Season

The spring season, which was slated to run from March 1 to April 15, will not occur.
southern flounder
Southern flounder is a popular target of anglers in North Carolina and beyond. Courtesy NC Division of Marine Fisheries

Anglers in the Tar Heel State will have to wait until the fall to catch flounder. The six-week long spring season, which was slated to open on March 1, has been canceled.

North Carolina’s recreational spring season for Gulf and summer flounder was eliminated due to overharvesting last summer. Preliminary data from the 2022 recreational flounder season, which took place during September 2022, showed that recreational anglers exceeded the Total Allowable Catch quota for southern flounder by 25,000 pounds.

Multiple Flounder Species to Manage in North Carolina

There are many species of flounder in North Carolina, each with different management concerns. The state manages the recreational flounder fishery for left-eyed flounder, which include southern, summer, and Gulf in area waters. Gulf and summer flounder, which would have been available for harvest during the proposed spring season, are considered ocellated flounder, exhibiting eye-like dark marks enclosed by a band of another, lighter color on their backs. Southern flounder lack these spots. (North Carolina has a handy guide to help anglers identify flounder in their waters.)

While the Southern Flounder Fishery Management Plan has a provision for Adaptive Management under Amendment 3 that allows for a recreational season for ocellated flounder from March 1 to April 15, that season must not negatively affect rebuilding of the southern flounder stock.

North Carolina must adjust the 2023 recreational quota and seasons based on the previous year’s catch data. The overage in Total Allowable Catch for southern flounder indicated that species is overfished, with overfishing occurring. Though southern flounder lack the spots associated with the ocellated flounder, the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries is concerned that there is the potential for southern flounder to be harvested during this time. Thus, the state believes they cannot hold a spring flounder season and still meet sustainable harvest goals.

Fall Flounder Season Dates Have Yet to be Announced

Anglers will have to wait until the fall for a recreational flounder season in North Carolina. Those dates have yet to be set, but last year’s season occurred from September 1 to 30. The Division of Marine Fisheries will release this year’s dates once all data has been finalized.