Summer flounder regulation choices coming down to the wire

February 10, 2024

First, I must apologize. There was a virtual hearing held at 6 p.m., Feb. 1 to take comments on several proposed actions to reduce the summer flounder catch by 28% that I didn’t find out about until that day at 3 p.m. Written comments on the choices were accepted until Feb. 8, and that was Thursday. If you would like to send in your choice of the selections listed with this article and explain that you didn’t receive the information until Feb. 9, I don’t know if that will work or not. I did get my selection in on time, and I will send them an explanation of why they may get a few late choices from the Delaware Cape Region. I have no idea if that will help, but if you want your voice heard, make your choice as soon as possible and send it to

The regulations for summer flounder will be the same in Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and the waters under the control of the Potomac River Fisheries Commission. I am sure each jurisdiction will have its own preference, and some will want this and others will want that. I chose Option 2, which gives a season that begins in May and runs the rest of the year with a four-fish bag limit and a 17-inch size limit. An increased size limit causes me concern about mortality of discarded fish, but that’s the way the bean counters want to cut down on our take.

From looking at the young of the year surveys, which are not as thorough as the ones done for striped bass, it is apparent that summer flounder are not reproducing at a rate that will maintain a healthy stock. That will always bring about a cut in both recreational and commercial take, so we have to cut back on the number of fish we harvest. I believe the commercial reduction is 7%. Why the commercial fishermen are allowed a 7% reduction and we recreational fishermen must take a 28% reduction is a question I will be asking at the next Summer Flounder, Scup and Black Sea Bass Advisory Council meeting.

I believe too many people on the decision-making side of fishery management regard recreational fishing as a bunch of folks out for a good time, and if they can’t fish, they will find something else to do, like golf or tiddlywinks. They have no idea that recreational fishing is a big business, with many people relying on it for their income.

Let’s say the choice I made, Option 2, does become the regulation. That will kill the flounder fishing business in the spring. No minnows, no flounder rigs, no flounder charters and no gas sold to boats fishing for flounder from April until mid-May. Unless the bluefish show up, that leaves tog as the only fish available until May 15, when black sea bass season opens. Unfortunately, the same boats and folks that would have fished for flounder in the Back Bays, the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal and the shallow water of Delaware Bay can’t reach the Del-Jersey-Land Reef where the black sea bass hang out. I hope there will be a few big fish left in the shallow-water areas by the time we are allowed to fish for them.

There has been a bit of good news from the fisheries regulators. They have left black sea bass alone for 2024 and 2025. The biomass of black sea bass remains at two and a half times the level need to maintain a healthy population, and this message has finally struck home with the bean counters so they are going to give us a break for a couple of years.

As I wrote about last year after a Nov. 30 sea bass trip, I experienced steady drop-and-crank sea bass fishing at the Del-Jersey-Land Reef and caught 20 keepers from a location that had been pounded since May 15. If that didn’t prove that black sea bass are in good supply, I don’t know what more proof you need.

Bluefish regulations will also remain status quo. I do not like dividing up recreational fishermen according to where they are fishing, but see little chance of changing that situation. If you fish from a for-hire boat, you can keep five bluefish. Fish from shore or from your own boat, and you may only keep three blues.

During the same Nov. 30 trip, I saw some nice-sized blues caught by other anglers using different baits from the boat-supplied salted clams. These were nice 3- to 5-pound blues that would be very welcome at Indian River Inlet or along any Delaware beach.

  • Eric Burnley is a Delaware native who has fished and hunted the state from an early age. Since 1978 he has written countless articles about hunting and fishing in Delaware and elsewhere along the Atlantic Coast. He has been the regional editor for several publications and was the founding editor of the Mid-Atlantic Fisherman magazine. Eric is the author of three books: Surf Fishing the Atlantic Coast, The Ultimate Guide to Striped Bass Fishing and Fishing Saltwater Baits. He and his wife Barbara live near Milton, Delaware. Eric can be reached at

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