The Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission (LWFC) has moved forward with plans to establish a closed season for recreational and commercial harvest of southern flounder from October 15 to November 30. The statewide closure for flounder is for all sectors and all gear types, including flounder caught as bycatch in any other fishery.
The flounder bycatch fishery is considered large, and some coastal residents have opposed such harvest, particularly from shrimp nets.
Exemptions that previously existed for southern flounder caught as bycatch by Louisiana shrimpers are no longer applicable. The LWFC was granted authority by the state legislature to modify the shrimping bycatch exemption if flounder stocks were overfished, which they deem is so.
The Fisheries Commission is closing fishing in the fall to allow mature female flounder to escape inshore waters and move offshore to spawn. The closed season is projected to reduce the harvest of mature female Louisiana southern flounder by 50 percent.
Reportedly, the closed season is in effect to help flounder stocks rebound to healthy numbers by 2028.
Louisiana fisheries staff have noted low numbers of adult female southern flounder for several decades, and a study by Louisiana State University (LSU) confirmed that the flat fish had become alarmingly rare in coastal regions of the state.
“Anytime a fishery collapses, it could be many different things,” says Kenneth Erickson, lead author of the 2021 LSU-led study. “We probably think it’s the fishing pressure combined with some environmental change that is increasing the stress on these species.”
In recent years, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries has logged some of the lowest numbers of adult female flounder in the past four decades.
It’s reported that the number of southern flounder caught by Louisiana commercial fishermen dropped in recent decades. In 2017, the state’s recreational southern flounder harvest dwindled to 124,000 pounds, down from a high of 624,000 pounds in 2013.
Anglers, guides and fishing resort operations will no doubt be affected by the flounder closure. But many recreational anglers are in favor of the closure if it aids flounder stocks.
“We are very supportive of the action taken by Louisiana to close the flounder season this year,” says Buddy Oakes with Hackberry Rod & Gun Club.
Oakes is pleased that bycatch flounder from shrimp netting also will be unlawful this autumn. He believes their usual take at that time of year results in 1,000s of pounds of fish every night.
Famed Venice, Louisiana guide Mike Frenette says he’s willing to give up a few short weeks of autumn flounder fishing in the hope for a potential rebound in the state flounder fishery.
“I usually cringe when government attempts to impose new laws to our daily lives and feel that government becomes involved with too many issues that they don’t need to be involved with,” says Frenette. “That said, I applaud and support our state for suggesting this new flounder harvest regulation.”