ReeferRob

Winter flounder

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We've been itching to go fish for something this winter and I saw Winter flounder listed as being a resident of The Chesapeake. I Googled and have come up with conflicting articles. Some say they're here all winter and others saying that they're here towards the end of Feb to mid March before they head out to deeper water for the summer. Anyone target them? Any tips, tricks or pointers would be appreciated.

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There used to be a limited winter flounder fishery in some Maryland creeks.  It's gone.  No state south of Delaware has even claimed an interest in the species at the ASMFC, and the Delaware fishery is effectively gone, too.

 

I sit on the ASMFC's Winter Flounder Advisory Panel, and the only states that have reps who show up are Maine, New Hampshire, New York, and sometimes someone from Connecticut, Rhode Island or New Jersey,.  The winter flounder fishery has gotten so bad, even in New England, that we haven't had an advisory panel call for a couple of years--maybe early 2019,

 

The flounder fishery south of Cape Cod is, for all intents and purposes, gone.  A few are caught every year between New Jersey and southern Massachusetts, but very few.  The best fishery is probably around Boston Harbor/Quincy Massachusetts, but it's not all that good.

 

In Chesapeake Bay, you might as well be hunting unicorns,

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8 hours ago, CWitek said:

There used to be a limited winter flounder fishery in some Maryland creeks.  It's gone.  No state south of Delaware has even claimed an interest in the species at the ASMFC, and the Delaware fishery is effectively gone, too.

 

I sit on the ASMFC's Winter Flounder Advisory Panel, and the only states that have reps who show up are Maine, New Hampshire, New York, and sometimes someone from Connecticut, Rhode Island or New Jersey,.  The winter flounder fishery has gotten so bad, even in New England, that we haven't had an advisory panel call for a couple of years--maybe early 2019,

 

The flounder fishery south of Cape Cod is, for all intents and purposes, gone.  A few are caught every year between New Jersey and southern Massachusetts, but very few.  The best fishery is probably around Boston Harbor/Quincy Massachusetts, but it's not all that good.

 

In Chesapeake Bay, you might as well be hunting unicorns,

Any idea what caused the decline in the fishery?

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19 hours ago, squidder 329 said:

Any idea what caused the decline in the fishery?

Overfishing was the primary cause of the decline, but the failure to recover the stock is probably due to other factors, as fishing mortality is now well below the threshold rate.

 

Studies in Long Island's Shinnecock Bay suggest that predation is probably a factor.  Young of the year flounder held in predator-proof cages survived at far higher rates than those caught in trawl samples throughout the year,  Other research shows that young of the year fish are vulnerable to hypoxic conditions in the bay, caused by nutrient runoff and higher water temperatures.

 

DNA studies on blue crab feces indicate that crabs are feeding on juvenile flounder.  Warmer waters have a positive effect on the crab population, so such predation may have increased in recent years.  A Rhode Island study, conducted a few years ago, found that sand shrimp, which used to be a significant prey species for adult flounder, have turned the tables, and have become a predator of then juvenile fish.  Again, warm water is believed to be a causitive factor.

 

Stomach sampling suggests that juvenile flounder are not a particularly important prey item for most finfish species.  A number of fish species were studied; fluke turned out to be the species that predated most heavily on young of the year fish, which were found in about 2% of fluke stomachs sampled.  Contrary to popular belief, striped bass were not an important predator of the juveniles, although the do feed on older year classes.

 

It may be that the spawning stock has been so badly reduced that a regime shift has taken place, and flounder are now having a problem breaking through what, at higher population levels, would be just routine predation, in numbers high enough to spur a recovery,

 

But in the end, overfishing has to be blamed for setting the collapse in motion.  The New England Fishery Management Council didn't get overfishing under control until after the stock collapsed.  The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, which manages flounder when they are in state waters, is equally to blame, as they never held states to sustainable harvest levels, largely because the New England Council didn't do so.  The ASMFC's Winter Flounder Management Board took the position that there was no point in further restricting landings in state waters if the fish were just going to migrate offshore during the summer, and be caught in the EEZ.  In a particularly boneheaded move a few years ago, after the Management Board recognized how troubled the Southern New England/Mid-Atlantic stock had become, and after it had adopted regulations that included a 2-fish bag, 12-inch minimum size, and a 60-day season for waters between southern Massachusetts and Delaware, it reversed itself, and expanded the season to a full 10 months, with only January and February closed, again on the premise that if the fish were going to be killed offshore, there was no point preventing anglers from taking a few more in the bays.  New York was the only affected state that had the sense to reject the 10-month season, and stick to the old rules.

 

That may have been because researchers here in New York have determined that not all flounder leave the bay in the summer.  Acoustic tagging studies revealed that there is a sub-stock of fish that remains in the bay, and only moves closer to the inlets, and their cooler, more oxygenated waters, during the summer.  That was unknown until a few years ago, and probably contributed to the flounder's demise, as management measures that might have been adequate for a healthy, migratory stock served to decimate the fish that remained in the bays.  Because flounder exhibit site fidelity, and return to the same places each year to spawn, when local populations were effectively extirpated, fish from neighboring populations don't fill in the vacuum (after a long period of years, fish from adjacent areas might drift in, although that isn far less likely when overall abundance is very low), allowing fishermen to move from depleted local populations to larger ones, which they then depleted as well.

 

To provide an idea of how bad things have gotten, in the early 1980s, recreational fishermen in New York routinely landed over 10 million flounder each year.  Recently, annual landings have been estimated to run anywhere between 0 and somewhere in the 10,000s, although NMFS samplers encounter so few anglers who have caught and kept flounder that the agency freely admits that the estimates are completely unreliable and unsuitable for management purposes.

 

The bottom line is that, unless flounder benefit from some sort of happy environmental accident that permits more fish to recruit into the spawning stock, chances of a recovery are close to nil.  The last stock assessment update shows that spawning stock biomass at the end of 2019 was 35% lower than it was 10 years earlier.,

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49 mins ago, CWitek said:

Overfishing was the primary cause of the decline, but the failure to recover the stock is probably due to other factors, as fishing mortality is now well below the threshold rate.

 

Studies in Long Island's Shinnecock Bay suggest that predation is probably a factor.  Young of the year flounder held in predator-proof cages survived at far higher rates than those caught in trawl samples throughout the year,  Other research shows that young of the year fish are vulnerable to hypoxic conditions in the bay, caused by nutrient runoff and higher water temperatures.

 

DNA studies on blue crab feces indicate that crabs are feeding on juvenile flounder.  Warmer waters have a positive effect on the crab population, so such predation may have increased in recent years.  A Rhode Island study, conducted a few years ago, found that sand shrimp, which used to be a significant prey species for adult flounder, have turned the tables, and have become a predator of then juvenile fish.  Again, warm water is believed to be a causitive factor.

 

Stomach sampling suggests that juvenile flounder are not a particularly important prey item for most finfish species.  A number of fish species were studied; fluke turned out to be the species that predated most heavily on young of the year fish, which were found in about 2% of fluke stomachs sampled.  Contrary to popular belief, striped bass were not an important predator of the juveniles, although the do feed on older year classes.

 

It may be that the spawning stock has been so badly reduced that a regime shift has taken place, and flounder are now having a problem breaking through what, at higher population levels, would be just routine predation, in numbers high enough to spur a recovery,

 

But in the end, overfishing has to be blamed for setting the collapse in motion.  The New England Fishery Management Council didn't get overfishing under control until after the stock collapsed.  The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, which manages flounder when they are in state waters, is equally to blame, as they never held states to sustainable harvest levels, largely because the New England Council didn't do so.  The ASMFC's Winter Flounder Management Board took the position that there was no point in further restricting landings in state waters if the fish were just going to migrate offshore during the summer, and be caught in the EEZ.  In a particularly boneheaded move a few years ago, after the Management Board recognized how troubled the Southern New England/Mid-Atlantic stock had become, and after it had adopted regulations that included a 2-fish bag, 12-inch minimum size, and a 60-day season for waters between southern Massachusetts and Delaware, it reversed itself, and expanded the season to a full 10 months, with only January and February closed, again on the premise that if the fish were going to be killed offshore, there was no point preventing anglers from taking a few more in the bays.  New York was the only affected state that had the sense to reject the 10-month season, and stick to the old rules.

 

That may have been because researchers here in New York have determined that not all flounder leave the bay in the summer.  Acoustic tagging studies revealed that there is a sub-stock of fish that remains in the bay, and only moves closer to the inlets, and their cooler, more oxygenated waters, during the summer.  That was unknown until a few years ago, and probably contributed to the flounder's demise, as management measures that might have been adequate for a healthy, migratory stock served to decimate the fish that remained in the bays.  Because flounder exhibit site fidelity, and return to the same places each year to spawn, when local populations were effectively extirpated, fish from neighboring populations don't fill in the vacuum (after a long period of years, fish from adjacent areas might drift in, although that isn far less likely when overall abundance is very low), allowing fishermen to move from depleted local populations to larger ones, which they then depleted as well.

 

To provide an idea of how bad things have gotten, in the early 1980s, recreational fishermen in New York routinely landed over 10 million flounder each year.  Recently, annual landings have been estimated to run anywhere between 0 and somewhere in the 10,000s, although NMFS samplers encounter so few anglers who have caught and kept flounder that the agency freely admits that the estimates are completely unreliable and unsuitable for management purposes.

 

The bottom line is that, unless flounder benefit from some sort of happy environmental accident that permits more fish to recruit into the spawning stock, chances of a recovery are close to nil.  The last stock assessment update shows that spawning stock biomass at the end of 2019 was 35% lower than it was 10 years earlier.,

Your in depth response is greatly appreciated as it educated me and hopefully others. The future looks very bleak for winter flounder and it's entirely mans fault. Thanks again.

 

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On 12/31/2021 at 9:55 AM, CWitek said:

There used to be a limited winter flounder fishery in some Maryland creeks.  It's gone.  No state south of Delaware has even claimed an interest in the species at the ASMFC, and the Delaware fishery is effectively gone, too.

 

I sit on the ASMFC's Winter Flounder Advisory Panel, and the only states that have reps who show up are Maine, New Hampshire, New York, and sometimes someone from Connecticut, Rhode Island or New Jersey,.  The winter flounder fishery has gotten so bad, even in New England, that we haven't had an advisory panel call for a couple of years--maybe early 2019,

 

The flounder fishery south of Cape Cod is, for all intents and purposes, gone.  A few are caught every year between New Jersey and southern Massachusetts, but very few.  The best fishery is probably around Boston Harbor/Quincy Massachusetts, but it's not all that good.

 

In Chesapeake Bay, you might as well be hunting unicorns,

Thanks for the reply. They have recently made a small comeback in Eastern Bay. We found someone on a local forum that knows where to go and when to go for them. I knew they were rare, but not to the point that the powers that be dropped them. There's no size or bag limit here on them which struck me as odd, now I know why.

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It may be anecdotal; but in NJ it seems that some were in the near-shore ocean during the summer. The Farms being an area where I caught  quite a few.

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the floundering in CC Bay has got pretty good again the last couple years.  there are spots that you can limit out on keepers in less than an hour.  usually good by mid april and waning by mid june.  multiple species of flounder too.

 

fluking, on the other hand, is basically non existant - especially compared to 20 years ago.  this is one of the most dramatic changes in CC Bay - especially around the outer cape - i have seen.  i have heard “seal potato chips”, “global warming”, “none of the in-sand larger sand eels they like around anymore”, “draggers”…

 

i would really appreciate any expert commentary as i really miss the fluke and i’m very interested in whatever caused their demise bayside around the outer Cape.

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On 1/4/2022 at 9:08 AM, nicknotsebastian said:

the floundering in CC Bay has got pretty good again the last couple years.  there are spots that you can limit out on keepers in less than an hour.  usually good by mid april and waning by mid june.  multiple species of flounder too.

 

fluking, on the other hand, is basically non existant - especially compared to 20 years ago.  this is one of the most dramatic changes in CC Bay - especially around the outer cape - i have seen.  i have heard “seal potato chips”, “global warming”, “none of the in-sand larger sand eels they like around anymore”, “draggers”…

 

i would really appreciate any expert commentary as i really miss the fluke and i’m very interested in whatever caused their demise bayside around the outer Cape.

Fluke recruitment was below average between 2010 and 2017.  With no new fish coming into the system, fishing has gotten a little tough.  However, the 2018 year class was well above average, so we should see a good numnber of fish recruiting into the fishery this year.

 

Cape Cod Bay winter flounder are Gulf of Maine stock, which seems to be doing a little better than the Southern New England/Mid-Atlantic stock is.  But as someone who remembers Quincy Bay in the '70s, "pretty good" is a relative term.

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1 hour ago, CWitek said:

Fluke recruitment was below average between 2010 and 2017.  With no new fish coming into the system, fishing has gotten a little tough.  However, the 2018 year class was well above average, so we should see a good numnber of fish recruiting into the fishery this year.

 

Cape Cod Bay winter flounder are Gulf of Maine stock, which seems to be doing a little better than the Southern New England/Mid-Atlantic stock is.  But as someone who remembers Quincy Bay in the '70s, "pretty good" is a relative term.

i mean the fluke are GONE.  i literally got ONE (a short), one time while “experimental” fishing in an area we used to get doormats w/in 5 sec of your sand eel hitting the bottom.  if you got bit and reeled up to check your bait - even with no bait there’d be multiple doormats chasing the weight up to the surface.

 

not that this was basically 30+ years ago, but two things changed 180 degrees at the same time - the fluke disappeared and the big “rake-able” sand eels disappeared - and - something new was on the fast increase - the seals.

 

seems pretty material to me and i can’t connect the dots with enuf other species to have it make sense to me.

 

i can see the disappearance of the large in sand sand eels effecting the fluke - but what happened to the big sand eels (??). i can’t imagine the seals ate ALL of those ?  and, where the fluke and larger sand eels were is not where there are or have been a lot of seals ??????

Edited by nicknotsebastian

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14 mins ago, nicknotsebastian said:

i mean the fluke are GONE.  i literally got ONE (a short), one time while “experimental” fishing in an area we used to get doormats w/in 5 sec of your sand eel hitting the bottom.  if you got bit and reeled up to check your bait - even with no bait there’d be multiple doormats chasing the weight up to the surface.

 

not that this was basically 30+ years ago, but two things changed 180 degrees at the same time - the fluke disappeared and the big “rake-able” sand eels disappeared - and - something new was on the fast increase - the seals.

 

seems pretty material to me and i can’t connect the dots with enuf other species to have it make sense to me.

 

i can see the disappearance of the large in sand sand eels effecting the fluke - but what happened to the big sand eels (??). i can’t imagine the seals ate ALL of those ?  and, where the fluke and larger sand eels were is not where there are or have been a lot of seals ??????

Remember that you're near the upper end of the fluike's range.  When fish become less abundant, it's the areas at the edge of the range that are most heavily affected.  Plus, fluke tend to migrate north and east as they get larger.  As the number of bigger fish thin out, you won't see as many; the Nantucket area, in deeper water, will probably hold more fish.

 

I fished for fluke out of Provincetown when I was 6 years old,  I turned 6 in 1961,  Then fluke became a lot harder to find going into the late '70s and, even more, in the late '80s when the population bottomed out.  Then, as the population rebuilt, Massachusetts saw good fluke fishing start to come back,.  I suspect that you're just seeing the effect of a reduced population again.

 

The sand eels, I can't speak to.  Don't know enough about their biology,  However, it would  be logical for your remaining large fluke to follow the sand eels to wherever they're more abundant.

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The winter flounder story is a sad one.  We used to bail them in long Island sound without ever untying the boat from the slip.  Now, its not even worth fishing for them and I can't say that I have seen any caught on over 10 years.   Fisheries management at its finest.... 

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I hadn't caught a winter flounder in 7 years until last year. In Moriches bay, we had an unusual run of them in mid-April where we were able to catch them consistently in the back bay. I'm hoping they come back this year and its a sign of their hopeful return

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1 hour ago, BrianBM said:

Keep an eye on the regulations for when the season, such as it is (sigh) is open.

look at that… only open april and may in nys.  
 

no closed season currently in ma.  just have to be sure its the right kind of flounder.

 

i caught one - one time - nice one - in nys when fluking in jones inlet.  it was june.  good thing i felt bad for it (and the s shore of long island population in general!) and let it go !

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