Flounders, Paralichthys spp.
Nearly all flounders landed by anglers in Florida are one of three species in the genus
Paralichthys: gulf flounder P. albigutta; southern flounder, P. lethostigma; or summer flounder,
P. dentatus. Gulf flounder are the only species to range along the entire Florida coast. Summer
flounder are only a minor component of the flounder landings in northeast Florida; their center
of distribution is off the U.S. Mid-Atlantic Bight. Southern flounder are generally only found
north of the Loxahatchee River on the Atlantic coast and north of the Caloosahatchee River on
the gulf coast. The distributions of gulf and southern flounder appear to be substrate-related.
Southern flounder are found on silt and mud, and gulf flounder are found mostly on sand.
Studies have shown that female southern flounder reach about 28" and 7 years of age while
female gulf flounder reach only about 18" and 3 years of age (Table 1; Wenner et al. 1990;
Stokes 1977). More recently, Fitzhugh et al. (1999) reported that gulf flounder attain older ages
than previously thought: the oldest gulf flounder found in offshore waters off northwest Florida
was age 11. While estuarine samples of southern flounder show maximum ages of about 4 years
(Stunz et al. 2000; Fitzhugh et al. 1999), older fish probably occur in shelf waters. Males of both
species do not get as large as females. Female southern flounder mature at age 3 or 4 (Wenner et
al. 1990), and female gulf flounder mature at age 1 (Fitzhugh et al. 1999). Both species spawn in
offshore waters during late fall–winter (65 ft–200 ft).
Total landings of flounders in Florida during 2005 were 788,824 pounds, the majority of
which (67%) were landed by the recreational fishery. Landings were greater on the Atlantic
coast, where about 62% of the statewide landings were made in 2005. In 2005, commercial
landings on the Atlantic coast were highest in Volusia County (Fig. 1). On the gulf coast,
commercial landings were greatest in Franklin, Bay and Escambia Counties. Estimated
recreational landings of flounders in Florida were highest in coastal counties between Indian
River County and Nassau County along the Atlantic coast; they were also high and evenly
spread across the coastal counties along the gulf coast, except for Monroe County (Fig. 2).
The 2005 total landings of flounders were 9% lower than the average landings in the
previous five years (2000–2004) and were 23% lower than the historical average landings
(1982–2005). In 1995, Atlantic coast recreational landings were almost exclusively southern
flounder, while gulf coast recreational landings were mostly gulf flounder. Based on limited
commercial sampling, the species composition of the commercial landings appears to be similar
to that of the recreational landings (Murphy et al. 1994).
Annual standardized commercial catch rates for mixed flounder species have been steady
over the period 1992-2003 and increased somewhat in 2004 and 2005 on the Atlantic coast, and
have increased steadily since 1992 on the gulf coast (Figs. 4, 5). Recreational catch rates for gulf
flounder are much lower on the Atlantic coast than on the gulf coast (Figs. 6, 7). Standardized
recreational total catch rates for gulf flounder exhibited a discrete increasing trend during 1994-
1999 and then varied without trend on the gulf coast, but held almost steady since 1991 on the
Atlantic coast. With the exception of high levels in 1997 on the Atlantic coast and 1991 on the
gulf coast, standardized recreational total-catch rates for southern flounder have been relatively
stable over the period 1991-2005(Figs. 8, 9).
Indices of abundance for young-of-the-year (YOY) gulf flounder were consistently low
on the Atlantic coast and varied without trend on the gulf coast, in spite of two exceptional peaks
observed in 1998 and 2003 (Figs. 10, 11). Abundances of post-YOY gulf flounder on the
Atlantic coast were low in 1999 and high since 2003; on the gulf coast, post-YOY gulf flounder
varied without trend except for highs in 1998/1999 and 2004/2005 (Figs. 12,13).
On the Atlantic coast, no gulf flounder were collected with gross external abnormalities,
while abnormalities in gulf flounder on the gulf coast were high in 2001 (Fig. 14). No single
specific type of gross external abnormality was most frequent among gulf flounder on the gulf
coast (Fig. 15).
Murphy et al. (1994) found that adequate information was not available to assess the
condition of southern or gulf flounder stocks in Florida. A rough characterization of gulf
flounder’s population dynamics suggested it was unlikely that they were being fished at a
maximum level of yield-per-recruit. Summer and southern flounder populations, which mature at
a larger size and older age, are possibly more sensitive to fishing than gulf flounder. New life
history information (Fitzhugh et al. 1999) needs to be considered in future assessments of gulf or
Assessments of the status of summer flounder in North Carolina northward found that the
stock abundance in 1993–1994 was at the lowest average level since the 1960s. Although data
indicated that 1993 year-class was very poor, some stock rebuilding had occurred due to good
recruitment in 1991 and 1992. The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (1982)
developed a Fishery Management Plan for summer flounder for the stock north of North
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|Status and Trends 2007 Report
Florida’s Inshore and Nearshore Species
by Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute
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