Demand for summer flounder stays high as landings begin to recover from historic lows

Summer flounder is a critical commercial Mid-Atlantic fishery, active primarily from Cape Cod, Mass., to Cape Fear, N.C., with 16 ports accounting for about 85 percent of landings. According to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, commercial landings have ranged from 9 million to 18 million pounds a year since 1993, but hit a low of 7.81 million pounds in 2016.

The 2018 coastwide commercial quota is set at 6.38 million pounds. North Carolina, Virginia, New Jersey and Rhode Island receive the most allocation (each gets more than 15 percent of total quota). North Carolina is permitted 1.76 million pounds, Virginia 1.37 million pounds, New Jersey 1.8 million pounds, and Rhode Island 1 million pounds. Virginia and North Carolina have winter fisheries, while other states spread effort throughout the year. Currently, Virginia and North Carolina fleets have landed higher portions of their quota, while Massachusetts expects summer upticks.

“It’s likely that collectively, the states will achieve the total coastwide quota, or come close. Most years, landings come within 5 percent of the coastwide quota,” said the commission’s Kirby Rootes-Murdy, a senior plan coordinator.

In late May, 50 percent of the overall quota had been met. “Landings so far this year track fairly close with trends in the previous two years,” added Kirby.

“We brought in every pound they allowed us to bring in already this year, based on each state’s quota,” said Sam Daniels of the North Carolina-based wholesaler Wanchese Fish Co.

Chris Duffey, of Boston Sword and Tuna, provides fillets and whole fish to domestic distributors and calls the fishery “boutique” because of the restricted landings.

“Summer flounder is in big demand,” said Duffy. “We’d sell more if we could!”

Certain parts of the country depend on summer flounder. “In N.J. and Maryland, people expect to have it. It’s like cod or haddock is in New England,” he added.

Quota limits have stabilized prices, averaging $4 to $5 per pound off trawlers, while in Rhode Island, sushi-grade dayboat fluke gets $6 per pound for medium-sized fish, and up to $7 per pound for jumbo. Fluke fillets sell at $12 to 13 per pound.

About the author

Caroline Losneck is an independent radio producer, filmmaker and documentarian living in Portland, Maine.

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