Marine - Species
SC Species Regulations for Southern Flounder
Saltwater Fishing License required.
Limit: 20 per person per day, not to exceed 40 per boat per day (state waters); 14-inch TL minimum; May be taken only by rod and reel or gigging; size limits apply to recreational and commercial fishing.
Southern Flounder (Paralichthys lethostigma)
Dorsoventrally flattened body with both eyes on the left side. Pigmented side light to dark brown (controlled by chromatophores) with diffuse nonocellated dark spots and blotches; blind side of body is white or dusky.
12 – 14 inches, 1 – 2 pounds;
South Carolina State Record: 17 pounds, 6 ounces (1974);
maximum age: approx. males – 5 years, females – 7 or 8 years; females are generally larger and outlive males.
Adults: Inhabit estuaries, rivers, and shallow coastal water including front beach; most abundant in shallow, muddy bottom tidal creeks and at tidal creek mouths; also utilize flooded salt marshes at high tides and occasionally near estuarine inlets; overwinter offshore.
- Both sexes mature at 2 – 3 years of age; approx. size at maturity: males: 11 – 13 inches, females: 14 – 16 inches.
- Adults migrate to unknown locations offshore during late fall; spawning occurs in these areas throughout the winter; return to inshore habitats during spring.
- Larvae undergo a 30 – 60-day pelagic phase then use ocean currents to enter estuaries during late winter and early spring. Metamorphosis is partially completed prior to settling inshore; once inside the estuary larvae finish metamorphosis and settle to the bottom in the flat juvenile body form. Juveniles remain in estuaries through winter and first migrate offshore just prior to spawning.
- Predatory, ambushing prey, using camouflage to blend into surrounding habitat; foraging occurs in tidal creeks and flooded salt marsh or at marsh edges.
- Adults: Feed primarily on fishes (striped mullet, spot, mummichog, white mullet, anchovy); also consume crustaceans, including grass shrimp, penaeid shrimp, and blue crabs.
- Juveniles: Prey species vary with size of flounder: smaller juveniles feed primarily on zooplankton, mysids, and grass shrimp; larger juveniles (subadults) feed on small fish. Larvae consume zooplankton.
Availability/Vulnerability to Harvest
- Most abundant flounder species in South Carolina waters. Distribution is primarily temperature regulated; offshore migration of older fish coincides with decreasing fall water temperatures.
- Movement within estuaries is minimal and related to tidal stages, flounder move up estuary with rising tide and retreat as tides fall. Most fish return to the same estuaries in successive years, with some latitudinal movement to other estuaries.
- Tolerate wide salinity range; generally occupy lower salinities than other Paralichthid flounder species in South Carolina; larvae may enter fresh water and larval development appears best in low salinity.
- Conservation concerns: degradation and loss of tidal creek and estuary habitat; compromised water quality; potential for overfishing; lack of knowledge regarding spawning locations in South Carolina.
Abundance of Species
Southern flounder numbers have declined in the SCDNR trammel net survey over the last 20 years. A separate analysis of SEAMAP data suggests a similar decline in flounder numbers, which is most pronounced around Charleston Harbor.
Peak years for recreational southern flounder occurred in 1985-1986 and 2004-2006. There was an overall increasing trend from the late 1980’s through the series peak in 2006. Since 2006 recreational landings for southern flounder have been declining. The most recent 10 year average (183,344 fish per year), was higher than the annual catch in all but three years (2004, 2006, 2008). The current size limit (14 inch minimum total length) and bag limit (20 fish per person per day) was enacted in 2007.
Commercial flounder landings are not tracked by species, but combined as group to include all species of the genus Paralichthys. Total commercial landings for flounder in South Carolina have been steadily declining since the 1980’s. The recent 10 year average (2001-2011) of 3,148 live pounds is significantly less than landings in the 1980’s (52,972 live pounds) and the 1990’s (12,108 live pounds). The primary gear targeting flounder in South Carolina in recent years include both trawls and gigs
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