COLUMBIA, SC People fishing at the beach this weekend face tighter limits on the number of flounder they can legally catch.
With populations of the tasty fish declining, South Carolina has restricted flounder fishing in an effort to help the species recover. New bag limits take effect Saturday.
“Not everyone will be satisified with this, but I’ve also heard plenty of support,’’ state Sen. Chip Campsen, R-Charleston, said Wednesday. “This is a public resource and we have got to maintain a sustainable fishery.’’
Anyone fishing for flounder from a dock or pier can keep only 10 fish per day, down from a limit of 15 flounder per day, according to restrictions approved this past spring by the Legislature. Fishing boats can keep no more than 20 flounder per day, regardless of how many anglers are in the vessel.The previous boat limit was 30 flounder.
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The rules apply to recreational anglers as well commercial fishermen who use hooks and lines, according to the Department of Natural Resources. Violating the bag limit carries fines of $25 to $500 and possible jail time.
In a news release Wednesday, DNR biologists said the tighter fishing limits mean 30 percent fewer fish will be landed in the next two years, giving flounder a chance to come back.
“With time, we hope the population grows and that total catch will increase as more spawners are available to provide more young fish,,’’ said David Whitaker, an assistant deputy director with the DNR’S marine division.
Research shows that flounder are among the top three most popular sport fish in South Carolina, the DNR says. Fried flounder also is a popular item on restaurant menus from Myrtle Beach to Hilton Head Island.
But surveys dating to the late 1990s show both a decline in the number of fish and the number being caught by anglers, according to DNR statistics.
Overfishing is believed to be the primary reason that flounder numbers have dropped, said Erin Weeks, a spokeswoman for the DNR’s marine resources division.
Flounder are flat fish perhaps best known for having two eyes on the same side. The dark brown fish reach 12 to 14 inches, on average, and weight 1 to 2 pounds. They inhabit inshore waters, including estuaries, tidal creeks and the ocean near the beach.
Campsen, who chairs the Senate Fish, Game and Forestry Committee, said that while the state needs restrictions to rebuild the population, he understands why people fish for flounder.
“It’s the best eating fish you can catch in the creek,’’ Campsen said.
The new limits were the first changes in flounder regulations in about 10 years.