The fall flounder run is a treasured Texas angling tradition.
Southern flounder – the flat fish with both eyes on one side of its head – migrate from the bays and straits of the coastline for the open waters of the Gulf to spawn each fall. Fishers flock to the coast to catch them.
But new regulations will bring big changes to the flounder run.
Data from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department shows that the flounder population is declining in Texas waters. The number of fish reportedly caught per year has dropped by over 100,000 since the late 1980s, and the catch rate has dropped too.
To reverse that trend, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission passed new rules this week meant to protect and expand the flounder population. Starting in 2021, all flounder fishing will be closed between November 1 and December 15. And anglers will only be able to keep flounder that are 15 inches or longer.
According to Dakus Geeslin, Texas Parks and Wildlife’s science and policy resources manager for the agency’s the coastal fisheries division, the rules are designed to give female flounder a better chance to reproduce.
“The male flounder rarely reach 14 inches, and nearly all the flounder legally harvested are those females,” Geeslin told the commission.
But the new rules are divisive. The department received over 1,100 comments about them. A slight majority supported the changes, including 25% of the commenters, which indicated the changes did not go far enough. But 36% of the commenters voiced opposition to the new restrictions.
Much of the resistance comes from the economic effect that closing flounder season for six weeks could have.
Houston fisherman Mark Wong has fished for flounder along the Gulf Coast for decades.
“Bait shops, hotels, restaurants, gas stations, ice houses, things of that nature, this fall flounder season provides a tremendous economic boost to those businesses,” said Wong, of Houston.
Scott Maxwell runs one of those businesses. He’s a fishing guide from Galveston who’s helped people catch flounder for over 30 years. He estimated he’ll lose about $25,000 a year from the six-week closure.
“You’re talking about taking six weeks of fishing away from people who have been doing this their entire lives. People that make a living doing this, like I do,” Maxwell said.
Maxwell, and others who make a living from flounder, question the data that Texas Parks and Wildlife used to make the new regulations. Several who spoke at a hearing Thursday on the new rules said that the methods used to measure flounder numbers don’t accurately capture the population. And rather than seeing a decline, some guides and commercial fishermen said that 2019 was one of their best years yet.
Geeslin, the Parks and Wildlife scientist, said that one good year, however recent, doesn’t offset the trend.
“We recognize that there’s occasionally good years in the fishery,” he said. “That doesn’t negate the fact that of these clear and significant trends of declining populations of flounder.”
Parks and Wildlife Commissioner Bobby Patton tried to stop a vote on the new regulations so more research could be done. But that effort failed. The commission passed the new rules, 8-1.
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