Despite a move to circumvent the fisheries management process in North Carolina and shut down the inshore southern flounder fishery, an uncertain season is turning into a successful one.

The state’s commercial industry and consumers won the war over the controversial move invoking emergency actions regulating southern flounder without supporting scientific data.

Now no changes to season dates or any supplement pursuits can move forward prior to the next amendment of the fishery management plan for southern flounder.

“From the beginning of this process, [the North Carolina Fisheries Association] insisted that an amendment to the southern flounder fishery management plan was the appropriate way to go, rather than the quick and dirty supplement process,” said Jerry Schill of the North Carolina Fisheries Association. “The Marine Fisheries Commission chose to ignore that opinion; and as a result, NCFA filed a legal complaint and prevailed, but costing fishermen and taxpayers a good deal of money.”

The injunction did allow certain parts of the regulation to remain in place, such as the 15-inch minimum mesh size for both recreational and commercial fishermen, 6-inch minimum mesh size for large-mesh gillnets, and pound-net escape panels.

Considered the most popular of North Carolina’s finfish, prices to fishermen throughout the state generally ranged from $4 to $4.75 a pound this year.

According to Brent Fulcher, owner of Beaufort Inlet Seafood Co. In Beaufort, N.C., and B&J Seafood Market in New Bern, N.C., the flounder fishery got off to a slow start.

“The weather was a big factor at the opening of the season,” said Fulcher. “That coupled with the severely restrictive regulations made for a tough start for gillnetters.”

According to Fulcher, gigging got off to the best start this year with the exception of some tough weather at the onset.

While the southern flounder season can be open for 11 months (Jan. 1-Nov. 30), the federally mandated endangered species regulations on turtle interactions usually result in an early closure.

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Maureen Donald is a freelance correspondent for National Fisherman.

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