Flounder restocking prospects are hopeful
SOUTH JETTY Ask just about anyone what they think about Texas flounder populations and you are likely to get as many different answers as the number of people you ask. This is not surprising considering the rumors that have shrouded the existence of this species for years about what “they” were going to do.
This year, however, things were different as “they” took physical form in the shape of Texas Parks and Wildlife regulations, and for the first time, it was illegal to gig flounder during the month of November. The daily bag limit also was cut from five to two for rod/reel anglers last month as well.
According to the TPWD Web site, the new regulations are an attempt to reverse the long-term downward trend in the abundance of southern flounder. Its Coastal Fisheries Division data shows that the relative abundance of flounder has fallen by about 50 percent since the early 1980s.
But these new regulations don’t apply to the labs aiming to capture these flatfish in an increasing effort to breed them in captivity for the purpose of increasing wild stock, much like the largely successful redfish program. To figure out a little more what “they” are up to, I spoke to Jeff Kaiser of The University of Texas Marine Science Institute in Port Aransas.
“We went out with Tray (Capt. Tray Clark of Port Aransas) several times in November, out to some of those points that for decades have had boats and walkers and lanterns, and we were the only people out there on a cold November night. We saw hundreds of flounder. It was unbelievable; we probably collected 150 fish, three-fourths males, one-fourth females,” Kaiser said.
“It has been a record year for collections, and between the UT labs here in Port Aransas and the Parks and Wildlife Hatchery, lots of flounder have been collected, hopefully resulting in hundreds of thousands of eggs that we can all work with,” Kaiser added.
“We (UTMSI) are going to try to address the rearing issue with the larvae, and try to find out things that will help Parks and Wildlife do a larger scale program along with the spawning. So far, the larval rearing with flounder has not been that bad. It is fairly easy once you have a nice bucket of fertilized eggs. We can get them to spawn, but we don’t have near the numbers of eggs that we need, like we have with redfish where we have millions (of eggs),” he added.
“But flounder has been a little bit tougher, so to do any sort of a real meaningful stocking effort, we don’t need 300,000 eggs, we need three million eggs. So there is a big step there that needs to be taken. So between us and them, we’re all working on how can we refine our spawning techniques and possibly down the road look at doing a larger scale restocking program,” Kaiser said.
While it is believed that the majority of flounder move out of the bay systems during November, Texas anglers still have a chance to stock their freezers during the other 11 months of the year, particularly during October and December.
While fishing with Clark on Sunday, Dec. 6, Houston resident Kristin Shimaitis gigged an incredible fish that tipped the scales at a whopping 10 pounds.
“I’ve been doing this for a lot of years, and that is only the third fish at 10 pounds that I have seen,” Clark said.
For more information on flounder regulations, visit the TPWD Web site at www.tpwd.state.tx.us. To watch Clark and TPWD in action on the Web, go to www. youtube.com/watch?v=nrFmxgXs9rE. Another Web site: www.flounderrevolution. com, is sponsoring a catch and release contest of fish over 20 inches or more in which the winners each month (starting in 2010) will receive a fiberglass replica of the fish they released.
With all that is going on in the flounder world, it remains evident that South Texas just wouldn’t be the same without the southern flounder. As Shane Bonnot, hatchery biologist for TPWD in Lake Jackson, puts it, “We are trying to improve the fishery as much as we can with the least amount of impact on fishermen.”