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Fishing: Murrells Inlet angler leads push for flounder limits

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Mike Brady of Murrells Inlet says he has thousands of signatures on a petition to restrict the individual flounder catch limit to five 15-inch fish a day for everyone, anglers and giggers.

Brady, 55, a native of the inlet, moved away 14 years ago for work. Now that he’s moved back he sees a significant drop-off in the flounder fishery. “I caught 23 flounder in one day and couldn’t keep any because they were too small,” Brady said.

The legislature has been willing to put limits on trout, red fish, croaker, spot and whiting, but flounder has never had a champion, he said. “I want my grandchild to be able to catch a fish when she gets of age,” Brady said.

He thinks the 15-inch limit would be fair. “If you let that flounder grow another inch, he’ll be able to spawn two more times in his life,” Brady said. “As for the giggers, if you want to go to North Inlet to go gigging for five fish, then you really love it.”

Mel Bell, director of the S.C. Department of Natural Resources Office of Fisheries Management, said increasing the size of keeper flounder to 15 inches would reduce the annual catch by about 30 percent. A bill in the legislature last year doing just that never came to a vote, he said. “By cutting mortality, you also get a bump in spawning,” Bell said. “A female flounder matures at 14 inches and one more inch gives more time to spawn. That was a pretty good idea in our minds, but it didn’t get passed. That’s the nature of how we do business.”

Bell said a bag limit of five or 10 flounder would do little to achieve benefits. Creel data says 80 percent of anglers are catching one or two flounder of at least 14 inches. “Taking it to five won’t make any difference because there are so few people catching five,” Bell said.

Giggers have escaped much of DNR’s scrutiny, Bell said, because creel surveys are done in daytime. When biologists have checked giggers’ flounder catch, most have been close to the 14-inch limit. “If a biologist intercepts you with a 13-inch fish, it becomes data. If law enforcement intercepts you, it becomes a ticket,” Bell said.

Population growth is fueling the pressure on flounder, Brady said. He heard there were 30 boats between Murrells Inlet and Pawleys Island gigging flounder on a Thursday night two weeks ago. “I used to gig,” he said, “and I would see one other boat. The new LED lights let them see up to 5 feet down. They are destroying them. Enough is enough. Limits are made for honest people, but if 25 out of 30 are legal it will make a difference.”

Brady said he’s gotten support for his petition from Kenny Moore, the franchise holder of Coastal Angler Magazine, and English Glover, host of the TV show “Reeling Up The Coast,” who has posted an on-line petition. Charter captains are supporting the petition too, he said, because their customers aren’t catching flounder big enough to keep.

“We’ve got a good movement going here,” Brady said.

Pawleys Island Town Council last week adopted a resolution calling on the legislature to restrict flounder gigging. It wants a catch limit of 10 flounder a person and 20 per boat.

Sen. Ray Cleary sponsored a bill in the legislature in 2009 that banned flounder gigging for five years in Pawleys Creek and Murrells Inlet while the state Department of Natural Resources studied flounder populations. The law set a day time catch limit of 10 flounder a person. At the time, it was 20. The current catch limit is 15 a person and 30 per boat. There is also a 14-inch size limit.

Anglers often complain that giggers, using lights and spears, take more than the limit, but a DNR study in 2007 found they averaged two flounder a trip. Property owners on Pawleys Island complained to Town Council last month about the lights and noise from generators used by giggers.

The council resolution cites both safety and resource concerns. It says there is a risk that a boat could lose power and be swept out of Midway or Pawleys inlet at night. Also, “commercial flounder gigging in the Pawleys Island creeks has been reducing the sports fishing catch of locals and tourists,” the resolution says.

Town Council is also considering ways to close the public landings to boat traffic after 11 p.m. It adopted the curfew as part of its resolution, but doesn’t have an ordinance to put it into effect.

The last time it considered a similar measure, in 2007, Town Attorney David DuRant said it could face a challenge from DNR.

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