Shining Light on Harvest and Effort for the Recreational Flounder Gig Fishery in Texas

Principal Investigator

Recent declines in populations of southern flounder (Paralichthys lethostigma), a popular sportfish in Texas and along the Gulf coast, have prompted increasingly stringent management regulations including reduced bag limits, increased minimum size limits, and temporal restrictions on allowable gear.  Nevertheless, these measures have not led to the expected recovery, causing much debate about the relative impact of overfishing versus climate related effects on successful recruitment. Further confounding flounder management is the fact that significant harvest of flounder occurs at night through a large and growing recreational gig fishery, the catch and effort of which is largely not currently estimated by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) during routine creel surveys. As such, management of flounder continues to be hindered by data gaps regarding accurate catch and effort estimates and the effect of temporal gear restrictions. 

The overall goal of this project is to improve catch and effort estimates for the Texas flounder fishery and evaluate the effectiveness of current temporal gear restrictions using two independent methods. To estimate catch and harvest, nighttime creel surveys will be conducted between sunset and sunrise by two persons in 6-hour time blocks. To evaluate temporal gear restrictions in the flounder fishery, nighttime visual surveys will be developed and performed during the fall spawning migration (September – December) at sentinel sites near inlets.

The objectives of this research are to:

1) Design and evaluate the use of nighttime creel surveys to estimate catch and effort of the recreational flounder gig fishery;

2) Develop and test a standardized visual survey for future incorporation into management;

3) Estimate the timing of the flounder fall migration and evaluate whether current gear restrictions match the observed fall migration period.