Did You Know?

Local Summer Fisheries – Summer Flounder

Summer flounder may be moving north, sparking a debate on quota allocations. (Photo credit: NOAA Northeast Fisheries Science Center).

Madi Gamble is the Ocean Conservation intern this summer at CLF.  She grew up fishing in Marblehead, MA and is a rising senior at Dartmouth College, where she studies biology and environmental science.

Summer flounder, also known as fluke, are a bottom-dwelling flatfish that can be found in New England’s shallow coastal waters in the summer months, when they migrate inshore from their deeper, offshore winter habitats.  They tend to inhabit these shallower waters from July until September, and have historically composed one of the most popular and important commercial and recreational fisheries on the east coast.  Flounder tend to burrow into sandy or muddy substrate, and can often be found near wharf pilings and docks because of their added protection.  In addition to hiding in the sand, flounder are capable of slightly changing the color of their skin to blend with the colors of the sea floor.  Juveniles feed mainly on crustaceans and small fish, while adults are opportunistic feeders that will eat crustaceans, mollusks, shrimp, or other fish species.  Partially buried, they wait for their prey to swim by and then burst out of the sand to attack.  Juvenile summer flounder are important prey for other marine species such as dogfish, cod, hake, monkfish, and even other flounder species.  Most commercial fishermen use bottom trawlers to catch flounder, which can be particularly destructive to fragile sea bottom habitats.  However, flounder prefer to live in muddy or sandy areas, which are much more resilient in the face of trawling than rocky bottoms.  Recreational flounder fishermen generally use hook and line.

Summer flounder biomass indices by year (NEFSC)

The first fishery management plan for summer flounder was approved in 1982 in response to continually low population levels.  However, inaccurate stock assessments made it difficult to determine appropriate catch limits, and the stock continued to decline.  In response to this decline, in 1993 the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission implemented a plan to rebuild the stock by 2013.  The stock was considered rebuilt two years ahead of schedule in 2011, and is still considered a healthy, sustainable fishery today.

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission and the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council  are jointly responsible for the regulation of summer flounder under the Summer Flounder, Scup, and Black Sea Bass Fishery Management Plan.  The 2012 quota for the entire flounder fishery is 12,676,725 pounds, 60% of which is allocated to commercial operations while 40% goes to the recreational fishery.  There is currently a moratorium on entry into the fishery, meaning that no new permits are available for commercial operations.  The commercial season begins January 1, when fishermen trawl for flounder in their offshore winter habitat.  The minimum size for commercial operations is 14 inches, and daily catch limits are determined by the time of year and the fishing method.  Commercial fishermen may only fish for flounder between 6 AM and 8 PM, and may not fish on Fridays or Saturdays between June 10 and the end of the commercial season (which occurs when the annual quota is reached).  Recreational regulations for the fishery, including size minimums and possession limits, vary by state.

Recipe:  Spinach-stuffed Flounder (from my mother’s kitchen, feeds 4)

8 fresh flounder fillets, rinsed and patted dry

2 cups milk

1 egg

2 cups fresh baby spinach leaves

1/2 cup bread crumbs

1 cup shredded Fontina, Swiss, or Monterrey Jack cheese

1 T fresh chopped parsley

1 t fresh chopped chives

2 T grated Parmesan cheese

Zest from 1/2 a lemon

Dash salt & pepper (to taste)

Preheat oven to 350°.

In a food processor or blender, combine spinach, bread crumbs, Fontina, Swiss, or Monterrey Jack cheese, parsley, chives, Parmesan cheese, lemon zest, salt, and pepper.  Process until combined.

On each flounder fillet, place approximately 1-2 T spinach stuffing near the wider end of the fillet.  Roll the fillet up to enclose the stuffing.  Place a toothpick into the roll to keep it from unrolling.  In a bowl, combine milk & egg and mix well.  Gently submerge each flounder roll into milk/egg mix to coat.  Place each roll onto buttered baking pan; sprinkle each roll with scant coating of breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese (if desired).  Bake at 350° for approximately 20 minutes, until cooked through.


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